The 'Space Jam' soundtrack is built just like a NBA roster

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The Space Jam soundtrack isn't exactly an All-Star team: it features Monica and Coolio, after all. Instead, it's actually built much like a modern NBA roster.

There are many things we should not miss about the compact disc's reign as preferred music media format - scratched surfaces, broken hinges on jewel cases, attempting to find Aquemini in the CD wallet you kept in your car while you were driving. You are better off without this technology, even if you do owe Columbia House seventy-three more payments.

Something else died with the CD era, however: the non-soundtrack, a very specific genre in which you compile an album's worth of songs from various artists, put them all under the label of an anticipated-to-be-popular movie, and ignore whether the songs appear in the movie in any meaningful way. These aren't musicals or movies that feature notable singers, like Purple Rain or The Bodyguard. This is the Eddie Murphy remake of Doctor Dolittle.

Absurd as it seems now, we bought so damn many of these things. Two million copies of Charlie's Angels and Batman Forever. Three million more of Men In Black and Romeo + Juliet. And, of course, the non-soundtrack we collectively purchased a whopping six million copies of: Space Jam. None of these albums, including Space Jam consisted entirely of hits. To the contrary, they had tracks you'd never hear on the radio and artists you never bothered to look up. If Now! That's What I Call Music Volume 89 is an all-star team, Space Jam is constructed like an actual basketball roster, and, just like a basketball roster, one of the biggest challenges is distributing the minutes. Observe:

Head Coach: "Space Jam," Quad City DJ's

Quad City DJ's are not the most talented artists on this album, but they don't need to be, because their job is to serve as the unifying force for the rest of the roster. They do this by relying upon one simple and easily understood core coaching principle: everybody get up, because it is time to slam now. Again and again, like a meditative mantra, Quad City DJ's welcome you to the jam. It isn't complex, but it works, because the resonant message to the rest of this team, diverse in talent and aim though it may be, is an inspirational reminder that life only offers so many opportunities to achieve something truly great, and legends are those willing and prepared to seize those fleeting moments. This is our chance. Let's do our dance.

At the Space Jam.

(As an aside, that's not a typo. The group chose that apostrophe in "DJ's", perhaps as a larger commentary on the possessive nature of American culture in the mid 90s. Or something.)

Starting Point Guard: "Fly Like An Eagle," Seal

Making track one a cover of a Steve Miller Band single signals that this is a team designed for modern basketball but with an appreciation of the rich history of the sport. It may seem a little odd to use this song, which talks about social justice a lot and basketball none. But isn't selflessness and a willingness to embrace equitable distribution of resources exactly what you want from your point guard?

He's even cheering on that little kid, who has NO jumper.

Starting Shooting Guard: "I Believe I Can Fly," R. Kelly

Nearly one out of every 5 words in this song is the first person singular nominative pronoun. Whatever sense of community we got from Seal, it is completely absent here. Kells believes HE can fly. He doesn't know about your sorry ass.

So yes, "I Believe I Can Fly" is taking twenty shots per game and passing you up wide open in the corner to put up a fadeaway jumper with two defenders in his face. "I Believe I Can Fly" is calling you some truly horrifying names in the middle of a timeout. "I Believe I Can Fly" is putting up 42 points because you said your goal was to hold him under 40. Can "I Believe I Can Fly" win you a championship? Depends on the night, man. Depends on the night.

Starting Small Forward: "For You I Will," Monica

Let me be clear: Monica is a solid addition to this lineup. Does a lot of things well, can occasionally take control of the game and has shown a lot of hustle over the years. If you've got a team with Monica as your third option, things are going well. You might even be the kind of person who buys a Monica jersey just to show how much you appreciate people who contribute to the game in less obvious ways.

She is not, however, a Janet Jackson, or a Mariah Carey, or even a Brandy. Nobody has ever been enjoying a smooth jam and thought "Damn, you know what would make this jam even smoother? MONICA."

Monica is not elite.

Starting Power Forward: "The Winner," Coolio

"Remember when the Jazz let Coolio walk without even trying to sign him and then the Space Jam Soundtrack gave him a max contract, limiting their financial ability to improve the team for years to come?" That's the kind of sentence you'd use to describe "The Winner," which is anything but. This is the power forward you snagged right as he's about to hit the downslope of his career, becoming an oft-injured defensive liability who only logs 15 minutes a game.

Sure, you see flashes of the old talent, and you think maybe, just maybe, this is the year "The Winner" becomes "Fantastic Voyage" or "1, 2, 3, 4 (Sumpin' New)." It's not. "The Winner" will always be the song you only tolerated because you were in the other room and didn't have enough energy to go press the skip button.

Starting Center: "Hit 'Em High (The Monstars' Anthem)," B-Real, Busta Rhymes, Coolio, LL Cool J, and Method Man

Nothing about "Hit 'Em High" suggests finesse, because you do not hire 1990s Busta Rhymes if you are interested in finesse.

The track is just what it claims to be: an amalgam of wildly-swung elbows and screaming after rebounds in the paint. Hakeem Olajuwon keeps offering free lessons to "Hit 'Em High" in the offseason so it can learn a post move other than "stick a hand in dude's face and lay the ball in the hoop,"  an offer which is repeatedly declined. You love this center, even on nights where he picks up four fouls in 19 minutes.

Sixth Man: "Givin U All That I've Got," Robin S.

The music before the vocals come in sounds exactly like something the organist at a basketball game would play during a timeout. A timeout you call to make a substitution and give your team a jolt of needed energy in a tough spot. A jolt of needed energy that comes from the fresh legs and free spirit of the sixth man. Maybe the sixth man isn't ever going to be talented to become a starter. But he's out there, diving for loose balls and throwing himself into the lane and rotating on defense. If that's not giving it all that one's got, what the hell is?

Bench Forwards: "Upside Down," Salt-N-Pepa; "That's The Way," Spin Doctors featuring Biz Markie

If "The Winner" is the bad contract you're just hoping to use as a trade asset, these two are the pair of 33-year-old players you sign to the veteran minimum for mostly nostalgic reasons. In 1996, nobody expected much out of any of these artists, so whatever they're able to contribute is a positive. Would it be better if we could have just had Salt-N-Pepa do a song with The Biz? Yes, but the children of the Spin Doctors deserve to have a college fund, too.

Bench Guards: "I Found My Smile Again," D'Angelo; "Basketball Jones," Barry White and Chris Rock

Somebody approved a six minute long D'Angelo song for the soundtrack of a movie about cartoon alien basketball, which makes "I Found My Smile Again" the guard the former general manager signed that you have no intention of using. That same GM drafted a Barry White/Chris Rock cover of a Cheech & Chong parody song that was 23 years old THEN.

(Ironically, Michael Jordan could be that terrible general manager.)

Bench Center: "All of My Days," R. Kelly featuring Changing Faces and Jay-Z

Where "Hit 'Em High" was bursting with energy and enthusiasm, "All of My Days" is bloated and plodding. It may only exist on the album because R. Kelly insisted that if Seal got one song, he got two. "All of My Days" only comes into the game when you need to eat up minutes while other, better players get a breather. He has definitely been dunked on several times by a much smaller opponent.

Last Man Off The Bench: "Buggin," Bugs Bunny

Should not get any playing time. You can be up 47 with three minutes to play. Do not put "Buggin" in. Do not even make eye contact with "Buggin" at the other end of the bench. Make sure "Buggin" gets the worst seat on the team bus. The one right next to the bus bathroom. Why did you even sign "Buggin?" You're the dumbest.

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