Various Artists - Wildstyle OST (25th Anniversary Edition)
I still remember my first act of musical rebellion. Six years ago, I was a twelve year old white kid living in a former mining town; the sort of place where NWA was as likely to mean ‘Northern Water Authority’ as anything else, where the average local would be more likely to identify Lakim Shabazz as a mild curry than as a musician, and where ‘The Message’ was nothing more than something you left after the tone. A twelve year old white kid who, when on first visiting London, some years earlier, had precociously asked an Afro-Caribbean gentleman ‘how he was enjoying his holiday’, so ignorant of our multicultural society had I been rendered by a sheltered life in Northumberland and the Scottish Borders. A twelve year old white kid who’d been immersed in nothing but traditional English music from the very earliest age – my dad was for many years a folk singer.
One winter’s day, this twelve year old white kid, clutching his meagre savings in one hand, which was in turn firmly stuffed in his trouser pocket, walked down Ashington high street, to Woolworths. He wandered in, affecting a studied, bookish nonchalance, and, having made a beeline for the CDs and, for those were the days, cassettes, decided to purchase a double-disc, mid-price, old-school hip-hop compilation. I’m still not sure of the basis upon which I bought that set. Maybe it just seemed like the furthest away I could get from my dad’s music; maybe I figured that if I was going to try something new, I ought to push the boat out as far as Woolies’ paltry selection would allow me.
For me, then, my old-school compilation was the wellspring, the touchstone, the point to which all my love of that which is good in hip-hop and rap, from Kanye to Kool Moe Dee, can be traced back. With hindsight, however, ‘Wildstyle’ would’ve been an even better initiation. Reviewing the re-issued soundtrack to probably the most important hip-hop movie ever made was never going to be the toughest of assignments, then. The performances are no less sparkling than they were twenty five years ago, and the work as a whole is arguably even more important as a vital historical argument than it has ever been. As the aforementioned Mr. West, Talib Kweli, Common and OutKast start to show tentative signs that they might have the talent and courage to take hip-hop out of sex, money and gun-obsessed adolescence, and into the adulthood of a mature art form, it is more important than ever to remember rap’s infancy. Listening to the Wildstyle soundtrack now, twenty five years on, lets us return to an era when the music and MCing was simpler and more basic, yes, but purer of purpose and execution.
To regard the cuts contained herein, however, as mere history, is to sell them short of their true worth; the extent to which tracks from ‘Wildstyle’ continue to be sampled is testament to their continuing contemporary relevance. I could tell you which tracks are my favourites, but that’s really not the point. Equally I could give you a track-by-track rundown of the second disc of remixes and instrumentals, but, again, as interesting as they are, there’s little reason to do so. If you’ve never seen the movie, then clearly it remains the place to start, as a primer on all the colour and vitality of the art and culture of the South Bronx in the early eighties, but Mr. Bongo’s two disc set still stands up magnificently, in a way that few music movie soundtracks do, (‘The Last Waltz’ springs to mind as another fine example) as a self-contained piece of brilliant art. If you’ve never heard it, buy it. If you have an earlier version, buy it again. Or, at the very least, go and listen to it now. Right now.