Under the watchful eye of executive producer Sean “P. Diddy” Combs, Bad Boys II’s all-star lineup have put together a collection that plays more like a legitimate hip-hop album than a big-budget action film soundtrack. Succeeding where most hip-hop soundtracks fail, the record flows smoothly from start to finish and more than makes up for any shortcomings the film may have.
With representatives from nearly every major rap and R&B label, including Bad Boy, Def Jam, Jive, Roc-a-Fella and Shady/Aftermath, a roster of hip-hop heavyweights featuring Diddy, Neptune Prime Pharrell Williams, Jay-Z, Nelly, Beyonce, 50 Cent, Snoop Dogg, Mary J. Blige and Justin Timberlake and a spattering of talented up-and-comers like Loon, Freeway and M.O.P., the star power behind Bad Boys II is almost too much. But fortunately, egos are checked, and a solid and cohesive record results.
Kicking off with some trademark Neptunes ghetto bounce on the dirty, Diddy-heavy party track “Show Me Your Soul” and Jay-Z’s raw and equally bangin’ “La La La,” the record quickly establishes itself as a true tour-de-force with blingy beats that hit hard — but not too hard — and strong performances throughout.
“La La La,” Jay-Z’s strongest track since 2001’s “Izzo (H.O.V.A.)” is a return to form after last year’s lackluster “The Blueprint 2,” and it marks one of the strangest lyrical unions of hip-hop and basketball with the line “This ain’t Chris Rock, bitch / It’s the Roc, bitch / And I’m the Franchise like a Houston Rocket / Yao Ming!” From playing hoops for the China national team to a Jay-Z track in just over a year — congratulations, Yao, you’ve made it.
Hot on Jigga’s heels, 50 Cent and the Notorious B.I.G. team up for one of the best posthumous Biggie cuts in recent memory on “Realest Niggas.” 50 deftly plays off of B.I.G.’s rhyme in tribute to the fallen rapper and creates a new and fresh track in the process.
Continuing the star-studded onslaught, Nelly, P. Diddy and St. Lunatic Murphy Lee glide through “Shake Ya Tailfeather,” as Nelly’s half-sung delivery meshes surprisingly well with Diddy’s understated monotone.
Sounding blacker and better every day, Justin Timberlake stands out on the slick and sexy R&B number “Love Don’t Love Me.” If Justified didn’t fully complete J. Timb’s metamorphosis from a teen pop idol to a genuine R&B singer, then this should do it.
Of the promising youngsters, Roc-a-Fella’s own M.O.P. steal the show on “Wanna Be G’s” with their unique gangsta-shout style, showing that it’s possible to sound both dextrous and in-your-face at the same time. R-O-C Labelmate Freeway also has a strong showing with his wheezy but smooth flow on “Flipside.”
Strangely but wisely, P. Diddy and company left the film’s star, occasional rapper Will Smith, off the soundtrack. On a record featuring the ghetto’s finest stars banging away with sharp and relentless hip-hop, Smith’s PG-rated rhymes just wouldn’t feel at home. When it comes to the realest and illest, there’s just no compromising.
4 out of 5 stars.