Future "Superfly Soundtrack" Review
Remaking Superfly, one of the most iconic blaxploitation films of 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 of the movie's main theme (using the dope game as a means to the end of escaping it), the Atlanta stalwart is clearly the best choice to helm a soundtrack for the movie, the setting of which was shifted from Harlem to ATL for the update. Music video veteran Director X said of his decision to set his first-ever feature in the A, "In 1971, Harlem was the epicenter of 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 of dealers than the film, which seemed to direct most of 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 of Fewtch narrating the ups and downs of fictitious players in Atlanta's coke game (honestly, that sounds terrible), we get new clutch of 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 of 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 of most of his existing music.
None of that really matters though. Maybe if the soundtrack housed some truly subpar music, we'd be free to wring our hands about its lack of 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 of everyone involved with Superfly.
The soundtrack houses Future solo cuts that trounce his latest offerings 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 of Future with a young up-and-comer since 21 Savage's "X" (the Yung Bans-assisted "Bag"), and on top of all of that, one of 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 of everything, that's impressive as hell. If it's simply the product of him reaching into a grab bag of 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 of a take on Mayfield's wah-wah-laden original sound, but it belongs on an alternate universe Dungeon Family version of 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 offers up the thoroughly uninviting proposal of 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 of Future's approach is that, while plot points and Mayfield homages rarely pop up outside of the opener, trying to spot the connections to the original film and soundtrack that may exist— whether real or imagined— becomes a game of 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 of 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 of 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 of 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 of 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 of getting out of the game as soon as he makes a million dollars. She clearly loves him, but disapproves of his profession and drug use, which creates the type of 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 of 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 of the street shit he often raps about, but if he and his cousin (and Organized Noize member) Rico Wade are to be believed, it was his sole means of 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 of Superfly can also be regarded as a microcosm for people of color in general in America. Although the film's director and the majority of its cast and crew were non-white, its white producer, Sig Shore, was entitled to 40% of the film's roughly $4 million in profit. The rest of 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 of music, not only has he executive-produced this soundtrack, but he's also one of the new Superfly film's two producers. By seizing the means of production, he's fulfilled the dreams of not only Youngblood Priest but also every person of color who's ever seen their art lining the pockets of an undeserving white executive. That's more fitting a tribute to Superfly than any cover of "Freddie's Dead" could ever hope to be.