Various Artists, Chi-Raq (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) (RCA)
The soundtrack for Spike Lee's "Chi-Raq" aligns with the movie — a mish-mash of styles, time periods and characters; painful and solemn in some spots, and uncomfortably over-the-top in others. Like the film, the soundtrack captures a range of voices, each speaking to urgent issues, including gun violence, social inequality, and more.
And just like the movie, the soundtrack offers plenty to criticize.
"We're the only race that shoots and kills themselves," Kevon Carter sings on the sonically pleasing but factually incorrect "WGDB" (short for We Got to Do Better). The song begins with Kevon singing, "Everybody's talking about Brother Bill Cosby... (allegedly) drugging girls." There's mention of public attention on the Drake vs. Meek Mill beef, with Kevon asking, "but where was the compassion for those murdered in Chicago?"
Then there's Chicagoan R. Kelly on "Put the Guns Down," featuring singer/rapper Tink. Over a catchy house music-influenced beat, Kelly sings about children being shot down in the street. But his suggestion "do your dance, get in your zone/ they can't take you out that" comes off as inappropriate and silly.
If listeners can stomach the painful bits, then skip past the songs not worth mentioning, they'll find a few gems, including the haunting "Desperately" by Chicago singer Sam Dew and two songs by inspirational artist Mali Music. The latter singer is good alongside Jhene Aiko on the island-y "Contradiction," but even better on the emotional "Sit Down for This," with its gripping narrative.
Jennifer Hudson pours her heart into "I Run," capturing the on-screen anguish she demonstrates in "Chi-Raq," and perhaps, letting us in on the real-life pain she felt following the 2008 shooting deaths of her mother, brother and nephew in Chicago.
Music from the "Chi-Raq" soundtrack, including songs from Nick Cannon, do their job in the movie. But on their own, the collection falls short.