The soundtrack to “Southpaw” was released on July 24, 2015 under the banner of Shady Records and Interscope Records. It features various artists from the two labels as well as many more. As it follows a plot from start to end, the soundtrack can be interpreted as a concept album.
About the Album
When Eminem and his manager Paul Rosenberg agreed to do the executive production of the soundtrack to the movie “Southpaw”, expectations certainly got high. Not particularly on the movie itself as it featured Jake Gyllenhaal as the main character anyway, but on the music.
By then, fans already had a clue what to expect from Eminem, his evil twin Royce Da 5’9, his longtime collaborator as well as friend 50 Cent and last but not least, friend and live performance backup Denaun Porter, to mention a few of the artists on the project. All of them had already built their individual legacies and proved what they were about countless times over the course of the last years.
The question was, however, the following:
Could the Shady crew perform the seemingly impossible task well and satisfy both, music and movie critics? The short answer: Yes, with minor exceptions, however.
Here To Stay
After a masterfully composed introduction skit by the legendary James Horner, who tragically died a little before the official release of the soundtrack and with that the whole being dedicated to him, the first track on the album, “Kings Never Die”, features a hungry and lyrically fast paced Eminem above his prime.
The drum-driven beat of the song gives the Rap God a perfect canvas to deliver his hard and on-point words to his audience and proves the song’s title to be the truest statement in the context of his career.
In it, Slim Shady switches his flow multiple times from fast to slow to eventually go super fast again. His delivery is only beaten by the incredible metaphors, double-entendres, and punchlines that he spits rigorously through the whole little above 4-minute duration of the track.
The song’s captivity is increased by the hook sung by, surprise, fellow legend and in this case queen, Gwen Stefanie. I always liked how Eminem included female artists in his tracks in such an elegant way. The No Doubt singer adds a much-needed break from Em’s fast spitting and ends it perfectly with her melodic and on-point hook:
Here to stay
Even when I'm gone
When I close my eyes
Through the passage of time
Kings never die
On “Beast”, the third track on the album, the high pace set by Marshall goes on and increases even at times. The track is a remix from the original Rob Bailey & The Hustle Standard’s piece of art and it features four of the OG’s of the rap game. And, surprise surprise, all of them make sure to bring the finest out in each other over a heavily guitar-driven hard-rock beat.
While Busta Rhymes as well as Tech N9ne combine arsenic flows, of course with some well-timed double-time lyrics, it is the third man that leaves a blueprint on the track.
None other than KXNG CROOKED is the one who elevates the whole of it to the rap Olympus in the 2nd verse, or as he spits it perfectly:
When I write raps you have to have a Bachelors in Chemistry
Or a Masters in Math to be in the actual vicinity
To pass me up mentally, to match my agility
From Aspen to Italy, I have the ability
To send your ass to the Trinity
Like death when it's after the Kennedy's
The Struggle for Hope
A lot of the tracks of the movie soundtrack are rapped from the perspective of Billy Hope, the protagonist of the movie. Here, it is none other than Eminem’s right (or in his case left) hand Mr. Porter, who raps “This Corner” and perfectly carries the story on:
I said I'm tryna be a whole new me
I ain't tryna do the same old thing
I'm tryna prove to my family that I will not bring
No more trouble around, I ain't gotta do nothing
But stay out of shit, I ain't gotta be up in the chaotic
It's prolly 'cause it's my redemption that I'm entrenched in
This time we hear more of a slow-driven track and a much-needed break from the two earlier fast-paced and hard ones. The whole song gives listeners a melodic listening experience as well as perfectly drives the movie theme forward.
In this case, the track resembles the fall of the main character in every good drama:
I know you lost your hope in me
But hopefully I can restore it back where it's supposed to be
I just want my daughter back, this fight means much more than that
The song’s beat was as well produced by Denaun, who we know is a brilliant producer by now, and is driven by a keyboard sample. When listening to it closely, one can also argue that the drums resemble an early type of trap beat.
Bad and Evil Meet Slaughterhouse
One of the sub-plot tracks, which all center around the topic of sex literally and metaphorically, is titled “Raw” and it features the comeback of Bad Meets Evil. Royce announces the same in the following lines:
Bad and Evil, catch a body, catch your body that’s a membership
Put you on my hit list then turn around and kill up all the snitches
Then turn around and go to church, repent
Then ask the reverend, “Can I get a witness?”
By listening to the track, one could argue that the two of them, Royce and Marshall, tried to compete with each other, which wouldn’t even be a random guess considering their battle-rap backgrounds.
Another track on the album, “R. N. S” by Slaughterhouse, features a lot of punchlines while not adding much else to the concept of the soundtrack. It is one of the rare exceptions mentioned in the intro´ and just feels irrelevant to the album as a whole.
Love Games on The Weekend
One of the particularly best songs on “Southpaw” is the 2013 released breakthrough song of The Weeknd, “Wicked Games”. The heartbreaking pain that the track is supposed to transport can be felt in every vocal sung by the artist, especially on the hook:
So tell me you love me, yeah
(Only for tonight, only for the night)
Even though you don't love me (Ohh, ohh)
Just tell me you love me
(I'll give you what I need, I'll give you all of me)
Even though you don't love me (Ohh, ohh)
Also noteworthy, “Wicked Games” is a perfect prequel for the next and second track by Bad Meets Evil. In it, the duo, in this case Evil aka Eminem, makes official what listeners were secretly asking themselves in the prior mentioned “Raw”:
A fuckin' Ninja Turtle wouldn’t come toward us
Two joint forces, of course this is what blunt force is
'Cause we’d smoke you on any joint
Bad and Evil's back, bitch
You might experience some shortness of breath
As you sit with your lungs punctured
What they deliver in the nearly six-minute-long track, “All I Think About”, is beyond insane and its lyrical complexity and density have yet to be found in another track from the two of them. It features so many punchlines that it’s pointless like a capital I to mention them all. Instead, I suggest you go to Genius if you want to investigate every line for yourself.
All in all, “All I Think About” is arguably one if not the best BME tracks to be ever released and makes us curious about when the next bigger project is going to follow.
After a five minutes interruption from 50 Cent, which basically does nothing for the context of the album nor adds a good sound to it, and ironically carries the title “Drama Never Ends”, we get one final presentation of rap skills at their purest from Prhyme in “Mode”.
And in addition, the duo consisting of Royce Da 5’9 and his friend, legendary producer DJ Premiere, team up with none other than fellow half-white rapper Logic.
And oh boy does the last of the mentioned snap on the track. The verse of Logic is full of punches, clever wordplay, and a few humble brags. A good example is found in the rhyme patterns of the following lines:
I never miss, I murder my mission as the rendition I listen while my chain glisten
I’ma get it like the world is endin'
Dependent on if it’s impendent
Defendin' my mind in the way I rhyme so I’m sendin' in
The best of the best, no never the less I never digress I just keep it moving
Finger fuck who ain’t on improving
Armed and Dangerous
We get to the second-last track on “Southpaw”. And it is a very familiar one for hip-hop fans around the world: the 1997 released “Notorious Thugs”.
In this track, the notorious himself, Biggie, collaborates with the hip-hop group Bone Thugs-N-Harmony.
The first mentioned easily spits one of the best and fastest verses of his career while Bizzy Bone, Krayzie Bone and Layzie Bone all pull out equally as good and clever lyrics themselves.
The sung hook from Puff Daddy just adds to the ferociousness of the track and gives it a unique and legendary vibe, which Biggie perfectly sums up in the first bars of the track:
Armed and dangerous
Ain't too many can bang with us
Straight up weed, no angel dust
Label us notorious
Thug-ass niggas that love to bust, it's strange to us
Y'all niggas be scramblin', gamblin'
Up in restaurants with mandolins and violins
For the time of its release, the beat can be considered a milestone in hip-hop history as it contains many samples and instruments, like for instance some drums as well as a high-pitch sample. The aura of the beat doesn’t even feel like it was almost 20 years old in 2015.
The album’s last track carries the fitting title “Phenomenal” rapped by Eminem. It is a continuation of the first track on the CD, “Kings Never Die”, and does what a good closing track is supposed to do: it phenomenally ends the album.
What we hear is again a witty presentation of Marshall’s rap skills, cleverly packed into different flows and delivery speeds. As we are used to from him by now, the track is filled with relentless punchlines and metaphors, double-entendres, and more hidden messages.
Concept-vise the track represents Billy Hope’s comeback into the world of boxing and ties together with the movie and puts it to a close, therefore. It is also a total recall of Eminem’s rap career as he similarly describes his growing up as an underdog and compares his journey to the one of Hope.
As is often the case with Em’s lyrics, the final punch gets revealed at the end when he raps:
I write with the left, same hand I hold the mic with
As I fight to the death, 'til my last breath
Manage to prove who the best man is
Prevail at all costs, be the only ones left standin'
In the end, but I ain't gonna be the only one with the advantage
Of knowin' what it's like to be southpaw
Cause you can bet your ass you'll be left handed
Cause I am
In the End
As mentioned in the introduction of this review, the concept of the soundtrack represents the plot of the movie “Southpaw” with the main theme of Billy Hope’s journey from the bottom to the top to the bottom and eventually to the top again.
While the title of “Southpaw” refers to Hope’s stance in boxing, it is also a metaphor for Eminem being a white guy in the rap game and with that pays homage to his journey. The fact that Eminem is white AND left-handed, only add up to the mystery of the whole.
When it comes to the individual tracks, the masterpieces and plot drivers definitely are “Kings Never Die” and “Phenomenal”. The subplot on the other hand is driven by tracks like “Raw”, “Wicked Games” and “All I Think About”. Tracks like “Mode” and “Notorious Thugs” increase the quality of the listening experience plus the last mentioned add a legendary vibe to the project as a whole.
All in all, what we hear is a brilliantly produced movie soundtrack that can be listened to numerous times in a row without the slightest feeling of boredom coming up. With that being said, “Southpaw” is a real blockbuster for the ears.