Spike Lee’s controversial film Chi-Raq is in theaters today and like many of his past films he has lead the marketing with two music videos, “WGDB” and “Prey For My City.” While our reaction to those was less than enthusiastic, we remember when a Spike Lee movie-related music video was an event to behold. Here are eight that we’ll hold dear no matter how many suspect clips Spike puts out moving forward.
1. Tisha Campbell – “Be Alone Tonight” (1988)
Tisha Campbell as Jane Toussaint is the only role where the size of her head wasn’t an issue because her hair was bigger. But let’s not digress. When Toussiant and her Gamma Rays hit the talent show at Mission College it was the highlight of Spike’s ambitious colorism musical, School Daze. Their sultry performance of “Be Alone Tonight” was Campbell’s musical intro to the world and won the crowd with a deft display of sensual choreography in painted on dresses. But beyond being mere eye candy, it was a really catchy song with lyrics that were the ’80s equivalent of a subtweet to her man Julian: “I wanna let you know, I’m not just for show, either you let me go, or give me, love, love, love!”
2. E.U. – “Da Butt” (1988)
If you have never done this dance, your life is missing something you never knew you needed. The School Daze soundtrack gave black audiences around the country one of their first tastes of Go-Go music, courtesy of Experience Unlimited (E.U.). “Da Butt” is the forefather of such illustrious booty jams like Juvenile’s “Back Dat Azz Up” and Sir Mix A Lot’s “Baby Got Back,” as it had everyone from 8 to 80 bent at acute angles following the band’s libidinous instructions. School dances and wedding receptions went all the way left as soon as those horns hit. In fact, the video, which turned a local school into a PG-rated basement party, managed to outshine the party scene in the actual movie.
3. Public Enemy – “Fight the Power” (1989)
When you make a film as brash, raw, and racially charged as Do the Right Thing, you need a soundtrack single to elevate the urgency of the film. Public Enemy on a Spike Lee soundtrack was a match made in militant heaven. A simple yet powerful video of a protest march through the streets of Brooklyn as Chuck D and Flava Flav enlighten and entertain is still relevant today. Seriously, couldn’t Spike Lee have just recycle this song and video for the Chi-raq film? It makes more sense than what we got this year.
4. Gang Starr – “Jazz Thing” (1990)
Spike’s 1990 collaboration with Denzel Washington, Mo Better Blues, was criticized for being unfocused, but musically proved to be prophetic. While the soundtrack was rooted squarely in jazz, Lee recruited Gang Starr to school listeners on the history of art form by drawing them in with a hip-hop beat and attitude. Essentially, Guru was right when he said the 90s would be the return of a jazz thing, because they were in lockstep with groups like A Tribe Called Quest and the rest of the Native Tongue movement, who stamped a golden moment in music by blending hip-hop, R&B, and jazz.
5. Stevie Wonder – “Jungle Fever” (1991)
Stevie Wonder was so inspired by Spike Lee’s film about the trials and tribulations of interracial dating during a time of police brutality and extreme racial tension that he wrote a whole album based off it. The title track’s video was simple enough; people of different races found themselves in different scenarios reacting incredulously to people dating outside of their race. The prejudiced opinions of the people in the video reflected America’s attitude then (though its’ only moderately better now). Stevie let them know to have a seat because they didn’t know a thing about love.
6. Crooklyn Dodgers – “Crooklyn” (1994)
The soundtrack to Crooklyn is widely celebrated because of the classic soul songs. However, the only new track was performed by the Crooklyn Dodgers, a supergroup comprised of Bucksot, Special Ed, and Masta Ace, who illustrated what life was like in the County of Kings during the their youth in the ’70s and what were then the present day ’90s. Their nostalgic musings over a Q-Tip and Ali Shahid beat were complimented with cameos by Brooklyn natives Michael Jordan and Mike Tyson – repping for their home turf.
7. Crooklyn Dodgers ’95 -“Return of the Crooklyn Dodgers” (1995)
The Crooklyn Dodgers returned with new faces to continue their tale of Brooklyn life on the “Return of the Crooklyn Dodgers.” The song was taken from Spike Lee’s film about drugs infiltrating the projects in Clockers. Verses from Chubb Rock, Jeru The Damaja, and O.C. were sprinkled with aural and visual chops of lines from the predecessor, courtesy of BK transplant DJ Premier. A slightly more aggressive outing than the first, Chubb and company established the more nefarious connection between the ’70s and ’90s via the American drug and firearms trade.
Public Enemy – “He Got Game” (1998)
Spike Lee and Public Enemy reunited for the soundtrack to He Got Game and it was one of the first hits Chuck D and company had since the early 90s. Instead of solely speaking about the strained relationship between Jesus Shuttlesworth and his dad, Chuck spit bars about how people are played by smooth game everyday. Chuck D mentions how the government swindles its citizenry out of money and other freedoms. It also called out the dubious way we treat each other for personal gain, which is sort of what the movie was about. Well played, PE.