The line usually drawn between rap and soul music is perhaps a little too thick. The relative heydays of the two genres offer no overlap for direct comparison or opposition; the imagined conflict between the two is more so an extension of the tired polarization of the current and the canonized. Rap’s forebears, both musical and thematic, abound in the soul oeuvre. Functionally and aesthetically, rap is very much a modern analog of Curtis Mayfield’s 1970s. It makes sense, then, as we reach a crescendo of critical and popular obsession with the concept-driven rap album, that some executive at Columbia Pictures would decide that we were due for a remake of Superfly.
The idea of the original cinematic soundtrack (as opposed to a score) as a commercial vehicle is hardly new, although the Kendrick Lamar-helmed Black Panther seems to have ushered in a new era of “curatorial” work from a single star rather than broad-based, systematic courtship of each individual subset of a film’s target demographic. Like everything else, however, the function of the soundtrack has been disrupted by the streaming era. The Superfly soundtrack, curated and executive produced by Future, was initially released on June 8, comprising 13 tracks of which the vast majority featured the Atlanta rapper as a primary performer. A week later, following the release of the film itself, a further 10 tracks were added essentially without notice, including everything from inexplicable updates of decade-old songs (Freeway and Lil Jon’s 2006 “Rep Yo Click” with an added verse from Cyhi the Prynce), previously-unreleased tracks from artists absent from the original soundtrack (HoodCelebrityy’s “Find My Way Out”), and a pair of additional Future tracks that hang with anything on the initial release (“Struggles,” with Dungeon Family legend Sleepy Brown, and “Georgia” with Young Thug).
The obsolescence of a tracklist as a system of record is hardly unique to Superfly; every album could now be more accurately categorized as a playlist, and release dates often indicate a draft rather than a final product. I haven’t seen the movie, but the imagined Superfly that the soundtrack conjures is all over the place. Besides Sleepy Brown’s scene-setting opener “If You Want It,” the first half of the album could pass for a standard-issue Future record, something that could’ve been quietly released in the Purple Reign/EVOL era without drawing much attention. The second, tacked-on half is loaded with the sort of one-note tunes that might accompany a film’s rough cut before the actual soundtrack has been composed, bluntly indicating what the audience should be made to feel at a given moment. Even without reading a plot synopsis, the mere presence of A.CHAL’s “La Dueña” is a clear sign that Superfly contains a scene — probably just the one, and likely no longer than the song itself — set in Mexico or elsewhere in Latin America. Similarly, for what reason could the aforementioned “Rep Yo Click” possibly be revived but to accompany a hallucinogenic club scene?
If this bricolage is the necessary overhead that accompanies a new Future album in 2018, well, we have tolerated worse (consider, for example, What a Time to Be Alive). Even amidst the necessary overtures to every possible listener, there is treasure buried here. “No Shame,” with PARTYNEXTDOOR, is one of the only tracks that even gestures at the film’s promise of a classic re-imagined for the present; the inclusion of a guitar solo doesn’t itself make the song, but the willingness to indulge what it signifies does. Merely by uniting Future and Zaytoven, “Walk on Minks” is a guaranteed success, and the Yung Bans collaboration “Bag” is the rare cross-promotional effort that yields more than the sum of its parts, both rappers at home over a subdued vibraphone loop that recalls Shaft’s “Ellie’s Love Theme.” As a whole, the soundtrack is among the best of the project’s possible outcomes; redemptive value is by no means a guarantee of the increasingly bizarre branding experiments of the Spotify era, and the line between a quality album composed of a set of songs rather than a quality album contained within a set of songs continues to blur. There is, ultimately, much to be gained in pressing play on the Superfly soundtrack — in particular, tracks unavailable elsewhere that will provide Future fans with the novelty they crave. The monetary value of music having evaporated, the only cost is the time spent prospecting; rap recalls soul once again, its richest prizes withheld from mere surveyors of the genre to reward those deep in the (digital) crates.