Much like the cinematic remake, which functions as nothing but an advertisement for the entire Warner Media library, the Space Jam soundtrack is soulless and gratuitous.
We are in the midst of IP hell, and every day there are fewer escape routes. Anything in pop culture that has ever made a profit will inevitably be revived or reimagined or rebooted or remixed or whatever other word will convince you that the old nostalgic thing you love is now the new nostalgic thing you love. Up next is 1996’s Space Jam, originally born out of a pair of commercials starring Michael Jordan and Bugs Bunny that were designed to sell shoes and market-test whether the Warner Bros. Looney Tunes property could be made relevant to a new generation. It was a success, so they were like, “I guess this should be a movie now.” It’s a franchise born out of real integrity, which is why it makes perfect sense to return in a 2021 landscape where the sole purpose of everything is to become a bullet point on some CEO’s letter to shareholders.
Even though Space Jam is an obvious hour-and-a-half commercial, if you’re of a certain age, like I am, the franchise reserves a warm place in your heart. I mean, c’mon, it had Michael Jordan and tons of other cool NBA players and Bugs Bunny and the whole gang. I wanted to wear their Tune Squad jerseys and to visit Moron Mountain, and the way the movie alternated between reality and the cartoon world blew my mind on endless Cartoon Network rewatches. But it was the soundtrack, too. What would it be without R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly,” Seal’s “Fly Like an Eagle,” or Quad City DJ’s “Space Jam”? So many of the memories I, and many others, have for the movie are tied to those songs.
But, please, I beg you, put down the nostalgia goggles for a second. Space Jam’s sequel, Space Jam: A New Legacy, is full-on #brandedcontent. This time, it stars LeBron James instead of Michael Jordan. And if you watch the movie trailer, you’ll notice that it doesn’t just feature Looney Tunes, but also characters from It, Mad Max, and A Clockwork Orange—you know, all the things kids love these days! It’s not an advertisement for shoes and cartoon rabbits, but the entire Warner Media library. And, of course, the soundtrack is no different.
Yes, all of your favorite brand ambassadors—oh, sorry, I mean artists—make appearances on the soundtrack. John Legend, who hasn’t turned down a sponsorship since the W. Bush era, shows up for two tracks. One is called “Crowd Go Crazy,” and it has this annoyingly bright instrumental that might remind you of the ending credits theme for a second-tier Disney Channel musical. I’m 95 percent sure if you play the track backward, it contains some sort of subliminal “Don’t cancel your HBO Max subscription” message. Legend’s other track, “See Me Fly,” captures Chance the Rapper as he shoves a bunch of half-assed basketball references into his verse. It’s unclear if he’s ever watched a game or if he prepared by repeating terms he heard in a Stephen A. Smith clip. There are some bizarre lines, too: “You better look at every shot like it’s your shot at freedom,” he raps. Thanks for the motivation, I guess, Mr. Rapper.
But it has to get better, right? Well, is your idea of better “Control the World,” where 24kGoldn miserably whimpers about heartache on the most milquetoast guitar loop? Or maybe it’s Cordae’s lyrics on “Settle the Score,” which makes Porky Pig’s rap sound like that Big L and JAY-Z radio freestyle. Or what about Big Freedia’s “Goin’ Looney”? Do you mean to tell me that “I’ma duffy-daffy duck, quack, quack if you buck” over a heartless bounce beat complete with handclaps and bed creaks doesn’t get you absolutely psyched?! The fun keeps going. Joyner Lucas, Lil Tecca, Saweetie, and more all appear to collect their checks. Normally I would say they deserve a temporary ban from Spotify’s RapCaviar playlist as retribution for putting something so terrible into the world, but being included on this soundtrack is embarrassing enough. The only people who get off unscathed are Lil Baby, Kirk Franklin, and Just Blaze, because “We Win” is so bizarre that it’s the only song on this entire album worth a shit.
I get it. You’re probably wondering what the point is of railing so hard on a soundtrack and franchise that is ostensibly made for kids. But right now, in pop culture, almost anything that is mega-popular hides behind the excuse that it is “for kids” or “just entertainment” as a way to duck criticism. If it sucks, it sucks, no matter how fun it was intended to be. But whatever, I’ll probably still pay for a ticket to see the dumb movie, and whoever owns AT&T stock will get the last laugh. My soul has already been ripped out, put through a shredder, and thrown into an incinerator. It wouldn’t be right if Space Jam: A New Legacy and its soundtrack didn’t bunny hop on the ashes.