Future "Superfly Soundtrack" Review
Remaking Superfly, one the most iconic blaxploitation films all time, was always going to be a challenge. Matching its soundtrack, a Curtis Mayfield album that now towers over the film’s legacy as a stone-cold R&B/funk classic, has to be considered impossible. Instead, the remake’s creators came up with a modern-day equivalency: give Future the keys. As attuned to the streets as Mayfield ever was, and most likely having more first-hand knowledge the movie’s main theme (using the dope game as a means to the end escaping it), the Atlanta stalwart is clearly the best choice to helm a soundtrack for the movie, the setting which was shifted from Harlem to ATL for the update. Music video veteran Director X said his decision to set his first-ever feature in the A, “In 1971, Harlem was the epicenter black culture. It was really what Atlanta is today.”
Mayfield’s original soundtrack diverged from the film in some small aspects— namely the fact that he was much more critical dealers than the film, which seemed to direct most its ire towards the corrupt white cops who sold cocaine to its protagonists— but generally, he stayed pretty on-topic. Song titles reflected actual events in the film, such as “Freddie’s Dead” and “Eddie You Should Have Known Better,” and Mayfield sung directly to characters as well as the film’s audience. Obviously, Future was never going to try this.
Instead Fewtch narrating the ups and downs fictitious players in Atlanta’s coke game (honestly, that sounds terrible), we get new clutch music that you could argue contains a loose throughline about risking it all on narcotics, and the fallout that creates in one’s life. More realistically though, it’s just Future at his most street-focused, with R&B artists taking care the obligatory romantic-focused cuts. Throughout, you wonder whether Future even had the movie in mind while making these songs, as its themes are already well within the wheelhouse most his existing music.
None that really matters though. Maybe if the soundtrack housed some truly subpar music, we’d be free to wring our hands about its lack thematic focus, but with very few exceptions, it doesn’t. Whether due to a concerted effort to live up to the big stage or by sheer random luck, Future gets the most out everyone involved with Superfly.
The soundtrack houses Future solo cuts that trounce his latest ferings on DJ Esco’s Kolorblind and latest single “I.C.W.N.T.” (“Walk on Minks” and “Stains”), collaborations between Future and Young Thug better than everything that wasn’t a solo cut on last year’s Super Slimey (“Show My Chain Some Love” and “Money Train”), the best pairing Future with a young up-and-comer since 21 Savage’s “X” (the Yung Bans-assisted “Bag”), and on top all that, one the best Miguel songs ever, or at least one that’s better than anything on War & Leisure (“R.A.N.”). If this is thanks to Future A&R’ing the shit out everything, that’s impressive as hell. If it’s simply the product him reaching into a grab bag loosies and making the most with what he was given, it’s even more so.
There are duds, to be sure. The Sleepy Brown and Scar-led intro is intriguing enough a take on Mayfield’s wah-wah-laden original sound, but it belongs on an alternate universe Dungeon Family version this remake that’s more retro and narrated by Big Rube (which does sound amazing, to be fair). “Tie My Shoes” makes Future and Thug two-for-three on the album with its boilerplate, done-to-death trap sound. “Drive Itself” makes you wonder if any soundtrack, even one for a Fast & Furious film, needs a song devoted to self-driving cars, and that’s before Lil Wayne fers up the thoroughly uninviting proposal doing cardio to Carter IV. Closer “Nowhere” might be redeemed if it’s deployed during a fitting moment in the movie, but by itself it’s just the millionth vindictive Future joint where he’s controlling and possessive about women.
Another fun aspect Future’s approach is that, while plot points and Mayfield homages rarely pop up outside the opener, trying to spot the connections to the original film and soundtrack that may exist— whether real or imagined— becomes a game I-Spy. Lead single “No Shame” shows its cards early on with a live bassline, drum fills, and a closing guitar solo that might be the most Hendrix that HNDRXX has ever gotten. “What’s Up With That” poses itself as a kind origin tale, with 21 Savage and Future revealing backstories that involve sleeping on pallets, feeling like a goon, and never having a silver spoon. Lines scattered throughout like “I done had the same mentality ever since I trapped for it” and “I can’t go broke, I might go insane” speak to the film’s seminal depiction the “get rich or die trying” mindset.
The three tracks that deal with relationships could also be plotted on a storyboard about the ups and downs dating a dealer. On “R.A.N.,” Miguel woos a women by convincing her that she’s never been with someone as real as him. Khalid and H.E.R.’s romantic fallout on “This Way” results in increased savagery from both sides, speaking to the volatile nature the original film’s protagonist, Youngblood Priest. And it could very well Future being his usual scumbaggy self on “Nowhere,” but the line, “Giving your pussy away, that’s gon’ fuck up my legacy” definitely sounds like something a coked-up kingpin would say. In the 1972 film, Priest’s girlfriend Georgia is the only character who supports his mission getting out the game as soon as he makes a million dollars. She clearly loves him, but disapproves his pression and drug use, which creates the type friction that’s alluded to on these three tracks from the remake’s soundtrack.
You shouldn’t need to trace direct ties between the original film and soundtrack and Future’s new compilation to enjoy the latter, but if you do, there’s one connection that eclipses all others. At its core, Superfly is a film about the forces at play against African-Americans in the civil rights era— Priest’s inability to get a “real” job because his criminal record, white cops being the ones who control both the drug trade and the punishments for its lower-level players. Priest’s mission, first and foremost, is to get out. We don’t know how involved Future actually was with all the street shit he ten raps about, but if he and his cousin (and Organized Noize member) Rico Wade are to be believed, it was his sole means income before he started rapping. In a 2011 Fader interview, Future summarized his life before his first tape:
“Everyday waking up and thinking illegal. All my thoughts was illegal, that’s what I did up until I dropped 1000. I woke up proud] today like, Man, I ain’t gotta do nothing illegal.”
46 years later, the making Superfly can also be regarded as a microcosm for people color in general in America. Although the film’s director and the majority its cast and crew were non-white, its white producer, Sig Shore, was entitled to 40% the film’s roughly $4 million in prit. The rest the 60% was split by everyone else involved. The only person involved who got a payday similar to Shore’s? Curtis Mayfield, whose soundtrack generated around $5 million in sales.
Not only has Future made a career out music, not only has he executive-produced this soundtrack, but he’s also one the new Superfly film’s two producers. By seizing the means production, he’s fulfilled the dreams not only Youngblood Priest but also every person color who’s ever seen their art lining the pockets an undeserving white executive. That’s more fitting a tribute to Superfly than any cover “Freddie’s Dead” could ever hope to be.