I think we can all agree that 2020 has been a challenging year for everyone around the world. With the on-going Covid-19 pandemic, political divides, and racial injustices, it can be a dark feeling. During this dark time in history, I would like to take a step back in time to what feels like eons ago: the early 90s.
History-wise, 1992 could go down as one of the defining years in recent United States history. Coming out of the Gulf War, 1992 had the notorious “Cop Killer” released with the resulting controversy over the violent lyrics. The Rodney King beating, the Reginald Denny attack, and the Los Angeles Riots stoked racial tensions. The seeds of the East Coast-West Coast rap feud were beginning to grow. The crack epidemic was in full swing. Trust and togetherness between persons, young and old or rich and poor or black and white, were strained more than words can describe.
There was no way that 1993 would be able to top the dark patch that was 1992. Thankfully, it did not. 1993 was a weird year, though, especially for music. Michael Jackson gave an incredible performance during the Halftime show at Super Bowl XXVII. A young rapper named Snoop Dogg is arrested for murder. Infamous maniac/musician, Varg Vikernes stabbed his bandmate, Euronymous to death. And, most impressively, The Bodyguard Soundtrack sold over 1 million copies in one week, setting a Nielsen record. Each of these is important and deserves their day in the sun. Today is not that day.
Instead, I feel there is a more important moment in music history from 1993. That moment occurred on September 14, 1993—that moment being the release of the Judgment Night Soundtrack. Some of you reading this may go, “What’s the Judgment Night Soundtrack? Why is this soundtrack so important?” I’m glad you asked.
Judgment Night is a 1993 thriller film directed by Stephen Hopkins and starring Emilio Estevez. The film follows four friends (Estevez, Cuba Gooding Jr., Stephen Dorff, and Jeremy Piven) who are on the run in Chicago from a drug lord, played by Denis Leary and his henchmen. Failing to make back its budget and dismissed by audiences and critics alike, Judgment Night came and went without much fanfare.
What should have fanfare, though, is the accompanying soundtrack. What could have just been an easy cash-grab of hiring notable musicians and cobbling together songs with no cohesion, instead turns out to be a collection of talent that has something to say. Long before nu-metal, let’s say, graced the musical landscape with an entirely different approach to mixing rock with hip-hop, those involved with the Judgment Night Soundtrack, took a different approach.
Though not the first of its kind by any means, the soundtrack is revolutionary and forward-thinking by compiling an entire album of rock and hip-hop artists. Featuring a who’s who of talent from 1993, the soundtrack contains collaborations including Biohazard & Onyx, Pearl Jam & Cypress Hill, and Slayer & Ice-T. Each track combines one rock artist with one hip-hop artist and plays to each artist’s strengths.
Each song packs a powerful punch, and the only way to do this soundtrack justice is to breakdown each song in detail.
Track 01: “Just Another Victim” — Helmet & House of Pain
Right from Helmet’s opening guitar riffs, you immediately realize that this is not just going to be another cash grab soundtrack. Helmet lead singer Page Hamilton handles the first three short verses while the band drives home hard-hitting guitar riffs and an unusual snare. Hamilton details a rough environment and life falling apart. At the midway point, the guitar riffs slow with Everlast coming on for the final two verses. Painting a picture of himself being a soldier of the streets, Everlast details how drugs and violence are part of this lifestyle. And by being a soldier, he will not become just another victim. The music is hard-hitting with the grimy lyrics meshing well with the aggressive tone; “Just Another Victim” kick starts the album with a wallop.
Favorite Lyric: “Introspection, an afterthought; Swimmin’ in guilt, your favorite sport.”
Track 02: “Fallin'” — Teenage Fanclub & De La Soul
Slowing down the pace, we find Teenage Fanclub and De La Soul’s “Fallin.'” A personal favorite of mine, we find Teenage Fanclub setting the mood with a mellow beat accompanied with finger snaps. With Teenage Fanclub providing backing vocals, based on a sample of Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin,'” our first verse is delivered by Posdnuos from De La Soul details a time in the past when he was dope and famous. Now, looking back, he sees that his personality is an unwanted commodity. It’s an honest assessment, with references to himself in the past as The Six Million Dollar Man on the microphone. Sandwiching the first and second verses, we have a simple but meaningful chorus: “You played yourself.” Heading into the second verse, Trugoy the Dove lets the audience in on his past. Reflecting on a time when he left home and now considers himself washed up, his dues paid; he’s ready to pack his bags. The song then continues with Teenage Fanclub providing the chorus, transitioning to the outro. As the song fades, you can hear the members riffing and having a good time. Even with some weighty themes, the two artists mesh well, with “Fallin'” being an emotional and chill song.
Favorite Lyric: “I lost touch with reality; now my personality is an unwanted commodity.”
Track 03: “Me, Myself & My Microphone” — Living Colour & Run DMC
Jumping back to a harder sound, Living Colour’s Vernon Reid sets the immediate tone with some forceful guitar playing. The song moves with urgency as DMC hops onto the microphone with some gruff posturing. Elaborating how his microphone is always with him, foams like a dog, and breaks backs like stones, DMC’s intensity keeps pace with Reid’s solid guitar work. Run hops on next and ensures that he is the party. Boasting that he is “The cool, calm brother from around the way,” who “Rocks the parties” and is “From around the way.” Coming into the third and final verse, DMC brings the audience home with lyrics about flexing to get respect and his flow. With as much talent in this song, to me, “Me, Myself & My Microphone” is somewhat underwhelming. Run DMC do their job, but they have done better with lyrics that have more meaning. Not a terrible song, but Living Colour and Run DMC have both done better.
Favorite Lyric: “So I dip to the dive, thrive, and come alive, the two MCs that make ya name survive.”
Track 04: “Judgment Night” — Biohazard & Onyx
Coming back around to the harder edge that this soundtrack excels at, we reach the title track. Starting with Biohazard, the group lays down a moody, hard-driving theme that Onyx uses to deliver their grungy lyrics. The rock and hip-hop elements mesh well as we enter verse 1. Sonsee hops on with his ego set to 11 and hits the listener with bar after bar of braggadocio. Letting those listening in on how he is a “money greaser, cooler thank your freezer” and how he’s “branded a shorty black mic damager.” He ends the verse with an impressive flow change-up to deliver the last of his bars. If you want to grab the listener’s attention, this is a way to do it. Onyx’s Fredo jumps on to verse 2 and takes the listener to a dark part of town. Elaborating on those who “run and hide” and how “Freddy Scruggs loving this,” Fredo fears no one. With no dread, Fredo keeps them “hollering, screaming out for mercy.” Not a rosy verse, as one would expect from Onyx, but an impressive one. Feeling like there is no way to top what has come before, Sticky Fingaz doesn’t even tell you to hold his beer. He takes hold of the mic demolishes whatever is left. Starting with “I swear to fucking God, I’ll raise hell,” you better believe him and be ready as Sticky ramps up the intensity from there and never stops. In a typical Sticky Fingaz flow, he jumps from topic to topic, making the most of his time. He touches on the value of life, throwing down if need be, and ensuring that Onyx be the listener’s top pick. Each verse of “Judgment Night” is delivered with the fire and energy one expects from Onyx. Biohazard’s accompaniment only helps to set the mood for a truly stand out track.
Favorite Lyric: “With black ghosts with guns coming through the project walls with AKs, through darker days, one dead to the sun.”
Track 05: “Disorder” — Slayer & Ice-T
Track five brings the Slayer and Ice-T collaboration, “Disorder. Both artists bring their A-game to what I feel is the most important track on the album. Nothing I can say will do this track justice. Slayer and Ice-T perform a medley of three songs from The Exploited and fill the five-minute track “Disorder” with an unbelievable amount of energy and passion. With many references to Los Angeles and 1992, some of the track’s themes are a product of their day. Though, just as many, if not more, speak to now more than ever. Lyrics detailing “In this generation, hatred is the name,” and “The media incites civil unrest,” are just some of the powerful words that Ice-T declares during this powerful song. I know I already said it, but I can’t do this track the justice it deserves. I ask that you spare five minutes and give this song a listen. With Slayer holding the song in place and Ice-T’s fraught lyrics, “Disorder” is a marvel.
Favorite Lyric: The entire song.
Track 06: “Another Body Murdered” — Faith No More & Boo-Yaa T.R.I.B.E.
Keeping the break-neck pace and intensity, we come to “Another Body Murdered” from Faith No More and Boo-Yaa T.R.I.BE. The song opens with soft piano keys. What might seem like a calm opening changes immediately as those keys are joined in by Faith No More’s rigid guitars and pounding drums. Faith No More’s Mike Patton provides the song with chants with the verses handled by Boo-Yaa T.R.I.B.E. Matching Faith No More’s ferocity, verse one, details the cycle of violence experienced by opening with “Now I gotta murder, to murder, to get away.” Verse one may be the most focused and well-constructed on the entire soundtrack. The themes of street-life and murder continue as verse two provides the listener with the ins and outs of a criminal lifestyle. With talk about being respected and what happens to snitches, the lyrical detail paints a harrowing picture. The angry bleakness continues on the final verse with effigies of drug deals and violent imagery. As with a lot of hip-hop from the early to mid-90s, the storytelling is grim, the beat is dark, and the song is fire. “Another Body Murdered” is a stand-out track and one of my favorites.
Favorite Lyric: “I gotta pay the paid to play to get through, and I ain’t through til I’m dumpin’ on the moon.”
Track 07: “I Love You Mary Jane” — Sonic Youth & Cypress Hill
Slowing it way down, Sonic Youth and Cypress Hill bring the slow jam, “I Love You Mary Jane.” As the title suggests, the song is a four-minute love letter to marijuana. With Sonic Youth providing an almost hypnotic beat, you feel like you are sitting with the members of both bands, watching the smoke swirl. This song, to me, always seemed like an anomaly, though. Not to disparage what Sonic Youth and Cypress Hill brought, but the themes do not mesh with the bulk of the soundtrack. Beyond an intriguing beat, this song is only for those who truly love Mary Jane.
Favorite Lyric: “Have you ever been experienced, not for the lightweight, make you delirious.”
Track 08: “Freak Momma” — Mudhoney & Sir Mix-A-Lot
What was I saying about theses that did not mesh? “Freak Momma,” finds Sir Mix-A-Lot with the backing of Mudhoney. Like the track before it, the song finds Sir Mix-A-Lot on the hunt for the aforementioned, “Freak Momma.” Mudhoney accompanies the lyrics with an interesting, almost surfer-type guitar work and quick-paced drums. Sir Mix-A-Lot’s quick rapping style and punchy Mudhoney beat work very well together to create a fun, if forgettable, song.
Favorite Lyric: “We fuss and cuss and kick up much dust, but you know rap stars, you can trust us.”
Track 09: “Missing Link” — Dinosaur Jr. & Del the Funky Homosapien
Living up to his name, Del the Funky Homosapien kicks off the next track, “Missing Link.” Backed by a guitar-heavy beat from Dinosaur Jr., Del proves why he is one of the most underrated rappers of all time. Making the most of a song where the two artists don’t quite gel, Del uses his quick rapping skills to move and spitting bars about rappers who are not on his level and using his intelligence to mute all MCs. I do say that the song does not entirely gel, as some of the guitar playing does detract from the other elements of “Missing Link.” When Dinosaur Jr. tones back on their music and lets Del do his thing, the song hits its stride. Del the Homosapien puts in work on “Missing Link,” and shows why he should be a name remembered in the hip-hop community.
Favorite Lyric: “Just me, no simile, never flow simply, cause it was meant to be, the truth, the truth, and nothing but the truth, I tell it to the youth, propelling with the proof, in the puddin’, wouldn’t you like to know?”
Track 10: “Come and Die” — Therapy? & Fatal
As the title suggests, this one is not going to be a pleasant ride. With some entertainingly chugging guitars, Fatal brings the anger one would expect from a song called “Come and Die.” Fatal tackles the opening by advising, “Feel the Helter Skelter that even God can’t help you.” The slimy lyrics show no sign of stopping as Fatal talks about hitting those “With a full clip” and watching them “bleed.” Transitioning back to the chorus, which mainly consists of repeating “Come and die,” we know that this four-minute and 27-second odyssey will not have a happy ending. Therapy?’s Andrew Cairns gets in on the track with “Can’t run, can’t hide. I will kill you.” Fatal picks back up where he left off going further in-depth about murder and what lies on the other side, “Heaven ain’t no love for suicide, sittin’ in angels’ arms punk but you can’t run and hide.” If there is a gripe, it is that the song skimps on the lyrics. I am one that likes the darker side of things and wish there was a more in-depth detail provided by Fatal. As is, though, Fatal steps up and depicts a dark and grimy feel matched equally by Therapy?’s dingy music.
Favorite Lyric: “Thinkin of a past time rate, visions of craze that you make for my kid and my wake.”
Track 11 “Real Thing” — Pearl Jam & Cypress Hill
Bringing together two of the most influential bands in music, “Real Thing” features Cypress Hill bring their lyrical skill over a slow Pearl Jam beat. B-Real steps up first and boasts about running the streets and needing to do whatever it takes to survive, with violence usually necessitated to sustain. His lyric notes that he does he will not flinch and that it “Only takes one minute to reach for the AK, then pow.” Sen-Dog takes his place on the second verse and portrays a man who is ready for violence, yet comes from the perspective of someone who was a victim first. Now when a crime is to occur, he has “My little friend waitin’ for the carjacker.” Even with Pearl Jam playing second fiddle on “Real Thing,” Jeff Ament’s bass playing is a highlight. As a soundtrack closer, “Real Thing” does its job and concludes the album with a solid, if unspectacular, finisher.
Favorite Lyric: “Growlin’ howlin’, give it up punk you might wanna throw, the towel in.”
As an added bonus, I wanted to make sure I briefly talked about a track and collaboration that didn’t make the final cut of the soundtrack. Tool and Rage Against the Machine collaborated on a song unofficially titled “Can’t Kill the Revolution.” Listening to the song, it sounds as it never made it passed the demo stage, with temp-sounding lyrics, but the structure of a song is there. Combining the talents of Tool and Rage Against the Machine is a once-in-a-generation partnership. Even with only a rough version of a song, the song answers a what-if scenario regarding these two bands collaborating.
As someone who lives in the United States, revisiting an album like the Judgment Night Soundtrack, means a lot to me. It shows that there can be times on unity. Yes, each person is different, but that doesn’t mean those differences need to keep a wedge between us. When Cypress Hill and Pearl Jam can get together for a session, or an alternative band like Dinosaur Jr. and an underappreciated rapper like Del the Funky Homosapien just jam together; it proves that we can be different and still find common ground around us. In this time where division seems to be stronger than ever, I would like to offer this album as an olive branch and ask everyone to set those differences aside, whatever they may be. Whether rich, poor, black, or white, the Judgment Night Soundtrack knows no bounds and shines through to show that we are not so different and can work together as a cohesive unit. I would say to enjoy artful human collaboration at its finest, even if it’s just for the forty-five minute and eleven seconds of this album’s runtime.
The Judgment Night Soundtrack is a shining example of thinking outside of the box. Yes, you could just have a bunch of artists come in and dump b-sides, half-baked, and underwritten songs onto a compilation album and call it a day. What we got instead is an association of artists who, despite their differences, use their skills to craft a crossover album that satisfies fans of rock, hip-hop, and those looking for more than just music.