I don’t know how normal this is, but I have a list of words and phrases people are restricted from saying in front of me during meals, lest I start laughing uncontrollably and accidentally choke to death/spray morsels of half-eaten food across the room. Included on this list are such giggle-inducing phrases as dynamic front man, funderful, tweakin’ out at a rave, and Rollie Fingers. Also on the list is a great deal of Yiddish slang because, well, let’s face it, that language is designed to crack goyim up. But near the top of my verboten mealtime language list are three words that, when last they hit my ears together without warning, sent me into a 65-minute fit that produced a river of tears and turned my face redder than the ripest tomato you’ve ever seen: Judgment Night soundtrack.
Why is the 1993 Frankenstein experiment that joined 11 rap groups with 11 rock bands to help score an urban crime thriller starring Emilio Estevez, Cuba Gooding Jr., and Denis Leary so inherently funny to me? I have no idea. It’s actually a very good album. It’s more the idea of the Judgment Night soundtrack that’s risible. It’s almost as if the filmmakers knew the movie was going to tank harder than the German army, so they made sure the soundtrack was an event unto itself. There was definitely a small media blitz accompanying this Reese’s peanut butter cup of rock and rap. In fact, I’m fairly certain I saw more commercials for the soundtrack than I did for the actual film in the two weeks leading up to its release.
And why shouldn’t I have? It was a pretty ballsy move, banking an entire album on a hybrid genre that at the time really only had two full songs to its credit: Run-D.M.C.’s 1986 cover of “Walk This Way,” featuring two-fifths of Aerosmith, and Anthrax’s 1991 cover of “Bring Tha Noise,” featuring two-fifths of Public Enemy. From a theoretical standpoint, the Judgment Night soundtrack was more important than the movie, even if it failed: Sorry, Emilio, but we’ve seen you swear and wave a gun at people before. Del tha Funkee Homosapien and Dinosaur Jr, on the other hand, is a concept so wild I still can’t quite wrap my head around it, even years later.
Unlike the film, the Judgment Night soundtrack was no failure. It’s a solid, driving piece of work that proves the right combination of rock and rhyme can produce awesome results. Helmet’s scathing riffage is the perfect canvas for House of Pain’s angry barks. “Holy diver, I’m a survivor, feelin’ like DeNiro in Taxi Driver / with Jodie Foster and Harvey Keitel / looks like I’m walkin’ through a livin’ hell!” It may look silly on paper, but you can’t deny that couplet when Everlast shouts it at you over that brutal metal attack. Onyx and Biohazard similarly come together like wine and cheese on the album’s dark title track (It should be noted these two also collaborated around this same time on a memorable version of Onyx’s hit “Slam”.) Ice-T teams up with Slayer do a rip-roaring medley of three Exploited songs, something so incredible I’m surprised our government allowed it to happen.
On the other side of the spectrum, feathery popsters De La Soul and Teenage Fanclub share a perfect hazy, introspective marriage on “Fallin’”. Pot-obsessed rappers Cypress Hill turn in the chill “I Love You, Mary Jane” with Sonic Youth backing their trademark whines up. The Hill show up again on the last track with Pearl Jam for a slightly less chill tune called “Real Thing.” I find this a bit curious. Did Pearl Jam’s original Judgment Night teammates, perhaps a group like Digital Underground or P.M. Dawn, drop out at the last minute, forcing Cypress Hill to do double duty? Did Cypress Hill, probably the most bankable hip-hop group at the time thanks to their ginormous hit “Insane in the Brain,” realize their clout and demand two cuts on this monumental project? Did the executive at Sony in charge of the Judgment Night soundtrack accidentally pull their name out of the hat twice and not catch his mistake until the studio time was already booked? Not that I’m complaining. I’ve always lived by the motto the more Cypress Hill, the better. It’s just confusing.
The only real misfire on Judgment Night is the Mudhoney/Sir Mix-A-Lot cut “Freak Momma.” I attribute its failure to the presence of Mix-A-Lot, who always seemed like a rapper a bunch of sitcom writers made up. The wacky voice, the fur coats, that damn butt song—he could have easily been a recurring character on the Drew Carey Show. Obviously one episode would have had to involve Mix-A-Lot and Carey switching bodies, which would have lead to a hilarious montage of the portly white comedian dancing around a giant foam rubber ass. But I digress.
“Freak Momma” makes me hate the 1990s. At least Mix-A-Lot is aware of what he’s doing. Toward the end of the track, he shouts out, “Just lost my street credibility, y’all!” Years later, the knightly rapper would attempt to regain said cred by flowing all over another Seattle band’s fuzzed out riffs—the Presidents of the United States of America.
Aerosmith, Public Enemy, and Anthrax—the Jefferson, Adams, and Franklin of rap-rock, respectively—aren’t present on Judgment Night, but Run-D.M.C. is. (They’re the Washington, duh.) Their track is the bouncy “Me, Myself & My Microphone” with Living Colour. It gets the job done, but isn’t outstanding. No surprise. Run-D.M.C. was having trouble recapturing their glory as early as 1988. There was no way anything they did here was going to come close to touching the greatness of “Walk This Way”. I’m just glad this Living Colour thing was better than their Ghostbusters 2 rap. That thing made “Rappin’ Rodney” seem like “Straight Outta Compton”.
Maybe the reason Judgment Night cracks me up so hard is that I’m aware of what it led to. I’m talking about the dreadlocked nu-metal beat-boxing of Korn, the backwards-capped dopiness of Limp Bizkit, and the inexplicable presence of DJs in pop bands like Sugar Ray and Crazy Town. I’m not laying all the blame at the feet of these 11 historic tracks; I’m simply observing how certain ideas become diluted over time. When Led Zeppelin played with an orchestra, it was kind of groundbreaking. When Metallica did it, it was overwrought self-indulgence.
But, no, you know what it is about Judgment Night? It’s Emilio. I never thought there’d be a direct link between rap-rock and a guy from The Breakfast Club. Biohazard is no longer pure. They are forever linked to Paula Abdul’s ex-husband. It’s crazy, like if somebody jammed Andrew McCarthy into Rage Against the Machine.
Now there’s something you shouldn’t say in front of anyone with food in their mouth.
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// Marginal Utility
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