By: Amanda McMillan
After some initial teasers for this album drop, paired beautifully with the stunning film trailers, the much-anticipated soundtrack for Queen & Slim is here- and it’s remarkable.
Released on Motown Records, the vision for the soundtrack was to span the history and influence of black music, from blues to soul to hip hop, with a nod to film soundtracks from the 90s. The end product is a nuanced and varied collection of tracks that manage to complement each other as much as they tell a story.
The album is stacked with talent including Meghan Thee Stallion, Vince Staples, Syd, Blood Orange, and Lauryn Hill. Much like the film itself, written by Lena Waithe and starring Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out) and relative newcomer Jodie Turner-Smith, this soundtrack is not messing around. In this new era of film soundtracks that operate as standalone albums, this one does not disappoint.
It opens strong with “Ride or Die” by Meghan Thee Stallion & VickeeLo, hitting hard with a killer flow and beat. Fans of Meghan The Stallion’s mixtape Fever will not be disappointed by this track, which has the energy and swagger of Missy Elliot, sprinkled with Ice Cube, and topped off some Salt N Pepa. It’s a lot, and it’s a mood.
The next few songs lean much more into R&B - sultry, funky, and smooth. They’re warm, and soulful, almost seeming to crackle with feeling. Even “Yo Love,” by Vince Staples, 6LACK and Mereba is sexy and slow, the guitar reminiscent of something Daniel Caesar would lay down. Tiana Major9 & EARTHGANG’s “Collide” is likely the most familiar release, which premiered as a single from the album back in October with a stunning music video. This is the one I keep coming back to, and can’t wait to see how it appears in the film itself.
Syd’s “Getting Late” is breathtaking in its falsetto, the drums like a heartbeat, everything seems to move in slow motion; it’s like the song is being dragged through honey. It almost sounds as if Syd is holding back like she wants to shout everything she’s singing about but she’s trying to contain it, to control it. That tension is palpable and leaves this song clinging to you after it’s done.
The title song “Queen & Slim” lands itself right in the middle of the album, helping to tell the story of the film itself. It brings together the hip-hop/R&B collective Coast Contra with BJ the Chicago Kid, creating a robust track surrounded by Marvin Gaye-eqsue instrumentals, and powerful lyrics. By the time we get to Lauryn Hill’s “Guarding the Gates,” which she’s been included in her live performances for a few years, the soundtrack has really settled into itself. The inclusion of Hill’s first solo studio release in five years feels intentional, and it’s been worth the wait.
The album closes with “Runnin’ Away”, by Blood Orange, Ian Isiah and Jason Arce (side note: the score for the film was also composed by Blood Orange). It’s a loungey, bluesy finale, with repeated lyrics “can’t keep running away,” which seems fitting for a film about two people on the run. It’s layered, sometimes loud and powerful, while at others delicate and nuanced. Each time I listen to this song, I hear something new, something that can be said about much of Blood Orange’s work. It’s a fitting end to the soundtrack, leaving you wanting more and curious about the resolution of the film.
The sophistication of this soundtrack is indeed found within the sum of its parts. Each song is a piece of a puzzle, and putting it together is part of the journey. Queen and Slim is a film that is a reflection of the time we are living in, and it would seem that every moment and every choice has been deeply intentional and thoughtful. This soundtrack, as an extension of the film itself, is no exception to that. Stacked with an impressive roster of artists, it brings to life a story within a story; it showcases the history of black music and the role that it has played and continues to play in our culture. This is an album worth spending time with. It’s a story worth getting to know.