SoundTreks | Barbershop: The Next Cut
Barbershop: The Next Cut, the latest effort from producer Ice Cube and director Malcolm D. Lee (The Best Man, Scary Movie 5), is a loose affair, but an earnest one. It’s largely a film about the conversations people have in barbershops. According to the film, barbershops are one of the final laid back public forums where a face-to-face free exchange of ideas can take place in a modern city milieu. It’s also very much about the explosion of gang violence in Chicago, and what the many members of the black community can do to fight the violence with non-violence. Barbershop: The Next Cut is a little too shabby to offer any sort of sea change on gang violence (especially not in a world that already has Chi-Raq, directed by Lee’s cousin Spike), but it’s still perfectly enjoyable.
Perhaps one of the most notable by-products of The Next Cut – aside from the acting debut of pop star Nicki Minaj – is its fantastic soul-heavy soundtrack record. The music supervisor on this film worked overtime to find a rock solid collection of soul classics and paired it with a sampling of soul-inspired new music. SoundTreks is here, dear friends, to take a walk through the record and casually draw some definitive-ish conclusions.
Track 1. “Real People” – Ice Cube & Common
The four Barbershop films were, according to Ice Cube, based on his real experiences in barbershops growing up. He found them to be warm, open, peaceful places where shooting the breeze was elevated into the lifeblood of a community. Some people never left the barbershop, happy to converse with barbers and other customers all day about politics, religion, sex, money, movies, music, fashion, young people, old people, and just about anything else. Ice Cube, and his co-star Common, rap this very heartfelt song about how there is something far more real about this experience than the adolescent rage of gang violence.
This new Barbershop film is very much a declaration from Ice Cube in many ways. He is saying that he was young and dumb when he rapped about gang violence, somewhat glorifying it. Cube is no longer full of rage, and he wants the world to know it. He’s a talented enough rapper that “Real People” encapsulates his thesis perfectly.
Track 2. “Good As Hell” – Lizzo
Lizzo is a Minnesota-based hip-hop singer whom I have just discovered. Like many hip-hop singers operating today, Lizzo seems to be heavily inspired by the soul music of the 1970s, complete with falsetto backup singers, occasional violin backup, and, often a disco-ish beat. “Good As Hell” is halfway soulful and halfway dance, and a pretty fun listen. The question arises: Did the music supervisor try to emulate the type of music that would play in a modern Chicago barbershop? Perhaps. This should fit the bill.
Track 3. “Working Class Heroes (Work)” – CeeLo Green
“Working Class Heroes” is a song that addresses the characters of The Next Cut specifically, and its music video features dialogue from the film laid over the music. We can, then, accept the above premise that this album is intended to be what Ice Cube’s character, Calvin, and his crew would be playing over his barbershop’s sound system. This is an in-world song.
But it’s not about the events of the film, per se, and functions as a companion piece to the first track; it celebrates the “real” people of the world, and how having a workaday job is perhaps the most heroic thing of all. This is a theme, you’ll find, of the entire soundtrack record, but also of the Barbershop film series in general. This is a sentiment that anyone who has had a workaday job can support.
Track 4. “Everything Is Everything” – Gabriel Garzón-Montano
This is a soulful song that is often used, in movies, to punctuate a maudlin moment, even if the song itself is not necessarily maudlin. Indeed, “Everything is Everything” is a gentle groove to punctuate a calm drive on an early Summer day through a calm neighborhood.
Track 5. “It’s Just Begun” – The Jimmy Castor Bunch
It heartens me how much old-school funk has remained a part of the pop discourse for so long. Or maybe old-school funk is being allowed to breathe again, since so much of modern hip-hop is quoting it so heavily (one need look no further than Bruno Mars for examples). This track was originally recorded in 1972, and, like a lot of funk and soul, still feels up-to-date and functional. Funk and soul seem to operate differently than other musical forms of the era. They are less dominated by nostalgia (although there’s some lingering around), and they aren’t ever seen as cartoonish or dated or silly. Including a Jimmy Castor song on a film’s soundtrack in 2016 is not a cheat or a stab at winsomeness. It’s just a good choice.
Track 6. “Let Go” – Lalah Hathaway
Anyone want to make out? In the mid-1990s?
To be fair, this is a track from 2008 (the Autotune belies that), but it sounds like the slo-jamz I heard during my formative high school years. This is not a genre or sound I have ever been particularly fond of, but, thanks to the dominance of this sound in, say, 1995, it’s become part of the fabric of my musical experience. So I can offer no salient criticism. My only recourse is to accept it.
Track 7. “Hold On” – Kem
This is a Christian song. It’s kind of dull. For most of it, it’s just a repeated phrase. I’m waiting for the soundtrack to kick it back into high gear by now. Two ballads should never be included next to each other on a mixtape or soundtrack record.
Track 8. “September” – Earth Wind & Fire
And who doesn’t love a good old-fashioned dance track? One could level the “gimme” accusation at the inclusion of “September” on any soundtrack, but it’s acceptable here. It matches the mood strangely well. It’s an energetic track, but there is a laidback groove to “September” that gives it an easygoing vibe. This is not a get-up-and-dance track. It’s a dance-if-you-feel-it track. And, yes, there is a difference.
Track 9. “Set Me Free” – Leela James
I assumed, at first listen, that Leela James was a deep-cut soul singer from the 1970s that I had forgotten about or perhaps had never learned about in my limited musical experiences. But, no, she was born in 1983, and wrote this song in 2013.
I’m beginning to long for more energy on this record. Of course, I always long for more energy in my music.
Track 10. “Respect Yourself” – The Staple Singers
Here we go. Heck yes. The Staple Singers. This is the gentle funk groove that defines the 1970s, and “Respect Yourself” is still amazing to listen to. But, more than that, it’s also appropriate to the themes of The Next Cut, and underlines the overall record’s themes of real-ness. It has been said that many of the funk songs of this era were political and spoke to racial concerns at the time, and “Respect Yourself” could be a cry for the black community to respect themselves. This is also a salient message in modern Chicago. This track is perfect and came at the perfect time.
Track 11. “Turn Up” – The Heavy
Here’s what I want: A record by The Heavy. I like this track a lot. It’s great. The Heavy are a British indie band that currently works in the neo-funk playground, and I encourage them to continue. They’re the ones who sang the movie-trailer-ready song with the “How’d Ya Like Me Now?!” chorus.
Track 12. “People Get Up and Drive Your Funky Soul” – James Brown
James Brown is amazing, of course, and I would never impugn the man’s greatness or overwhelming character. He is a giant in the music world, and everyone needs to own at least one James Brown record. But including Brown’s songs on a film soundtrack is one of the laziest choices a music supervisor can make. Indeed, “Get On Up,” “Get Up Offa That Thing,” “I Feel Good,” etc., are such recognizable pieces of easily-consumed radio flotsam, that we may be able to comfortably call a moratorium on including them on any soundtrack record ever again.
So when selecting a James Brown song, one needs to tread lightly. Nothing immediately recognizable. Nothing too goofy. Nothing that has been included in any other movie. “People Get Up and Drive Your Funky Soul,” a nine-minute remixed funk odyssey from Brown’s formative years. In terms of soundtrack songs, it’s a deep, deep cut to be sure, and its 1988 extension (when the remix was done) gives it a modern edge. In short, it’s one of the few James Brown song permitted on modern soundtrack records. Well done.
Track 13. “Never Too Much” – Luther Vandross
Hm… Coming off James Brown, I’ll allow it. Also, what the heck, it’s Luther Vandross. He’s allowed anywhere.
Track 14. “Future Is Mine” – DJ Cassidy feat. Chromeo & Wale
Here’s a musical irony I noticed when listening to this 2015 disco track, meant to sound like it was written in 1979: the new retro tracks include a subtle mixing and production that’s meant to make them sound old. A scratch, a little feedback here and there, and a deliberately imperfect sound. This is done, of course, to lend an air of historical authenticity to the song. It’s meant to sound like a slightly damaged vinyl album you discovered in an attic.
Meanwhile, the actual 1970s disco and funk tracks that have been salvaged by history, are often gathered and compiled by enterprising audiophiles for the express purpose of remastering them, cleaning them, and making them sound as fresh and as clear as possible. The new songs are meant to sound old, and the old are meant to sound new.
So if DJ Cassidy becomes a touchstone in the musical world, and his songs are to be lost and rediscovered in the intervening decades, are we going to think he recorded on low-rent equipment, that his song was damaged, or that it was poorly produced? Deliberately poor production on a song is an interesting notion to ponder when considering the song’s eventual longevity.
Track 15. “Move On Up” – Curtis Mayfield
I’m glad the funk/disco tracks on this album are actually the long dance mixes. It means the music supervisors care. They’re not going to make it more easily consumed comestible for the kiddies. They’re going to preserve its epic greatness. “Move on Up” is seductive, largely thanks to Mayfield’s vocals, and will stick around long enough to have your mood altered.
Track 16. “Eyes Of A Child” – Aloe Blacc
I suppose we have to end on the “message” track. Since The Next Cut is so heavily about gang violence, the movie eventually begins to feel like an After-School Special about the power of community and gathering together to change the world and etc., etc., etc. This song may not have been written for the movie, but it may as well have been commissioned for some sort of public service project.
It’s hard to like songs like “Eyes of a Child” (does one listen to this while they drive? While they make out? While they’re hanging about the house doing chores?) but “message” songs are also hard to criticize, as they so often deal with such real and serious subject matter. So I won’t call this a bad track. I’ll just let you decide.
Which is Better? The Soundtrack or the Movie?
Overall, I would say the soundtrack is better. Barbershop: The Next Cut is light, trifling, and as I said above, shabby. The record is a bit more complex, dealing with bigger moods and a wider variety of emotions. The movie is so fun and simple and low-rent, you can practically hear the cast and crew yelling “Hey, kids! Let’s put on a show!” The record is more aware of what’s still relevant to the movie, what’s great about old-school funk, and which artists are tapping into that classical milieu.
This is no exemplar of the funk sound, and may only offer a few choice tastes of that era, but it’s has something few soundtrack records possess: A unifying spirit. More than most soundtracks, I feel like the songs on this one are of a piece. And that’s hard to pull off.
Witney Seibold is a contributor to the CraveOnline Film Channel, and the co-host of The B-Movies Podcast. He also contributes to Legion of Leia and to Blumhouse. You can follow him on “The Twitter” at @WitneySeibold, where he is slowly losing his mind.