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Ranking the 'Belly' soundtrack 20 years later

'Belly' was released in theaters on November 4, 1998. However, the soundtrack dropped on November 3. Let's celebrate!

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any other agency, organization, employer or company.

—by Rashad D. Grove

The year 1998 was a remarkable time for hip hop music. Some of the most renowned rap albums were released during this exceptional year. Also, in 1998, there was a rise in film being produced by and starring major players in the genre. Hip hop cinema was taking off as entrepreneurs began to bankroll their own projects, as the culture took the reins of the film industry and began to tell their own stories. In that year alone, there was JAY-Z's Streets Is Watching, Master P's I Got the Hook-Up, and Belly; as hip hop put its signature on the big screen.

When Belly was released in theaters on November 4, 1998, it immediately became a cult classic in the hip hop film genre. Starring heavyweights DMX, Nas, Method Man, accompanied by actress Taral Hicks and R&B superstar Tionne "T Boz" Watkins -- and under the direction Hype Williams -- Belly was a gritty, urban crime drama detailing the pitfalls and the inner workings of the underworld of drug dealing. Belly was also the first major acting role for most of the cast.

The film narrates the lives of childhood friends, Sincere (Nas) and Buns (DMX) who built an extremely profitable criminal enterprise and they did whatever it took to remain at the top of the food chain. Overtime, Sincere began to have a change of heart about his criminal lifestyle and joined a black Muslim religious group with hopes of connecting with his roots in Africa. Buns, on the other hand, dove deeper into criminality and found himself locked up facing significant prison time. The cops offered him a plea deal where he had to assassinate the ministerial leader of the Muslim group, as penance for his freedom.

Accompanying the film was the Belly soundtrack. Composed of 18 tracks featuring the likes of DMX, Nas, Method Man, Ja Rule, JAY-Z, Mya, Sean Paul and many others; the soundtrack proved to be a success peaking at No. 5 on the Billboard 200 chart and No. 2 on the Top R&B/Hip Hop Albums chart. Twenty years later, it's still one of the best hip hop soundtracks.

Celebrating the 20th anniversary of its release, let's take a look at the top 11 songs from the Belly soundtrack.

11) Jerome - "Never Dreamed You'd Leave in Summer"

It's a monumental task for any singer to attempt to cover a Stevie Wonder classic. But R&B singer Jerome was up for task. He checks off both requirements of a good cover song, which is to preserve the integrity of the original and to add a new twist without it making it unrecognizable. "Never Dreamed You'd Leave in Summer" was first recorded by Wonder and written by Syreeta Wright in 1971. It was also featured on Wonder's album Where I'm Coming From. The ballad uses season changes as a metaphor to describe a relationship that's coming to an end. Jerome gives a noteworthy rendition of a Motown classic.

Notable lyrics: You said there would be warm love in springtime/That was when you started to be cold/I never dreamed you'd leave in summer/But now I find myself all alone/You said then you'd be the life in autumn/Said you'd be the one to see the way/I never dreamed you'd leave in summer/But now I find my love has gone away/Why didn't you stay?

10) Half A Mill - "Some Niggaz"

Brooklyn born MC Half A Mill had much momentum in his career after coming off of an appearance on The Firm album and on his mentor AZ's Pieces of Man LP. Landing a solo song on a high-profile soundtrack like Belly stood to catapult his burgeoning career to the next level. When he got his opportunity, Half A Mill made sure that he delivered. "Some Niggaz" with its hard-driving piano riff and snapping snare -- which was supplied by producer Poison Ivy -- was a perfect match for Half A Mill's witty wordplay. His unorthodox lyricism meshed well over the gritty track. Tragically, Half A Mill's potential would never be fulfilled. He was found dead in his home in 2003.

Notable lyrics: Out for mine, for your shines I'll blow you out your mind/You could throw a thousand signs/I'm only concerned about the dollar signs/Stashing my cheese, stashing my crack in back of my Fi/State to state, nationally!/Actually, factually/I'll fracture every member of your faculty, send your cavalry!/I got M1's and macs with me, send your cash to me/I'll have them niggas scared to ask for me/Throw your man off the Tappanzee/Other members of your running, where the traffic be?/Highland, he busting big guns, they coming after me/I'm wilding, real live shit, ain't no acting B/It's not a game, we ain't playing/Dun, we spraying, won't stop till everyone laying on the pavement/Every nigga you came with is getting painted/We specialize in wetting guys, technicalize/Smith & Wessun-ilize, I've seen the best of them die.

9) Mya featuring Raekwon & Noreaga - "Movin' Out"

Singer/songwriter/dancer extraordinaire Mya emerged on the scene as one of the new R&B divas of the era. A recurring theme in her music, Mya always made great collaboration songs with rappers. "Movin' Out" featuring Raekwon and Noreaga is a prime example. The track was a remix of her hit "Movin On," assisted by Silk the Shocker. With help of The Chef and N.O.R.E, along with Knobody's interpolating "Wishing on a Star" by Rose Royce, Mya served up another hot break up anthem.

Notable lyrics: I'll be movin' on/So far from where you are/Should I let you know the code/Cause you wasn't what you seemed/And now I'm wishin on all the rainbows/That I see/That someday you'll regret what you/Done to me/And I never thought you would hurt me boy/But now I know/That's why you're gonna see me walk so fast/Through the door, uh-huh.

8) DMX, Method Man, Nas & Ja Rule - "Grand Finale"

When four of the biggest stars in hip hop come together on one track, the result is a high energy posse cut. Lead single from the soundtrack "Grand Finale" is proof of this. It showed DMX, Method Man, Nas, and Ja Rule combining forces to create a memorable selection. Remixing the classic track from The D.O. C's The Formula LP with N.W.A., the east coast version proved to be a stellar track with all rappers onboard spitting hot verses.

Notable lyrics: Hot corners, cops with warrants, every block is boring/Friday night, getting bent, liquor pourin'/My dawg, not even home a month yet, and blaze a girl/In the stomach, he robbin niggas who pumpin/Lil' Blood got popped, by the group home cat/Everybody nervous in the hood, pullin they gats/Fiend yellin out, who got those? Go and see/Shorty snot-nosed, he don't floss but he got dough/Thug faces, fugitives runnin from court cases/Slugs shootin past for the love of drug paper/Queens cap peelers, soldiers, drug dealers/And God'll throw a beam of lightning down cause he feel us/May the next one, strike me down if I'm not the realest/The Mayor wanna call the SWAT team to come and kill us/But, dawgs are friends, if one see the morgue, one'll live/To get revenge, and we ride to the end.

7) Gang Starr, WC & Rakim - "Militia (Remix)"

This bicoastal collaboration features the dynamic duo Gang Starr, Westside Connection's W.C. and the God MC, and Rakim Allah. Just like the original, the "Militia" remix is a lyrical smorgasbord. DJ Premier with his signature cuts and sampling, creates another hot one for the underground heads. Guru and W.C both drop gems. But, Rakim's verse is exceptional. The 18th Letter spitter proved once again why he's still considered one the greatest MCs of all time.

Notable lyrics: Yo, it's The Master, mister, Musical Massacre/Passion for disaster, paragraph ambassador/R get the red carpet, just call me on/Corner the market like the mic's last name was Corleone/The facade killer, come through your city like Godzilla/Think of the sickest thing you ever seen, Razilla/My vision's vicious, suspect suspicious/Plans is ambitious, my motive's malicious/No interferin, if you ain't down, you got to swearin/And these cats they ain't carin, habitat awarin/Crack a beer and format the track that I'm hearin/It's either that, or I'm going back to racketeering/Yo, you should see me, I got a crew like Mussolini/But Kool as Moe Dee, my flow be, smooth and easy/Pretending every sentence the wildest, you get the picture?/Rakim is, the minist', with malice, Militia.

6) Noreaga featuring Maze - "Sometimes"

By this time, Noreaga had become a solo star. After he carried The War Report album mostly by himself -- as his partner Capone was incarcerated -- his solo debut, N.O.R.E., was a runaway success filled party anthems and street bangers. But, Nore is at his best when he's in an introspective vibe. On "Sometimes" featuring his protégé Maze, Nore reminisces about the recent passing of his father, enduring the difficulties of coming up in the streets, and the trappings of success. "Sometimes" captures the emotional rollercoaster that Nore was riding on.

Notable lyrics: Aiyyo I grew up like the regular thugs, I think I told you that/My only means of gettin money was just sellin crack/Outside a nigga did a bid, nigga all of that/So now I kick back, and get paid for raw rap/My nigga 'Pone ain't home, not yet/Yo it really don't matter just be zoned on the same set/Me and Trag kick it, on the here and there/Don't really hang too tough, but the love is there/My pops died on July 3rd/Ninety-Eight so now a nigga need mad herb/Cause my, pops is here aiyyo he loved his son/Matter of fact my pops was the one to show me a gun/And said, "Papi, you gotta protect your moms/Even if that means that you gotta strap up arms.

5) Sauce Money featuring JAY-Z - "Pre-Game"

Sauce Money made a name for himself as Puff Daddy's ghostwriter and as one of JAY-Z's frequent collaborators. After dropping jewels on mixtapes and album cuts, Sauce "Middle Finger U" Money was gearing for his first solo project. Enlisting his partner in crime JAY-Z, the two Brooklyn MCs cooked up another strong cut. Rhyming over a haunting piano sample by producer Spencer Bellamy, "Pre-Game" is the best collaboration between Sauce and JAY. Both spit incredible verses over a track that represents the essence of 90s New York hip hop.

Notable lyrics: Jigga, what the fuck?/As a youth explosively, clappin' off the roof/Shootin' guard like Kobe, raised up slay smears and bo'e/Back then, Gil was my co-d, Spanish Jose/Showed me how to get the money niggas owed me/Fast forward, no kids, six cars and three Role's/Two cribs, trips to Cuba, sippin' on Ooba/Got rap in a stupor, first to clap your group up/From the Range with the ski rack, or six with the roof up/Shit, I light the motherfuckin' soundproof booth up/New shit, y'all say the same shit like you're looped up/Your raps all lazy, Jigga the Black Scorsese/What your album lack is more Jay-Z/Code name: Jay-Hova, all praise me/Y'all don't paint pictures, y'all all trace me/You've yet to see the day when my squad be done/I represent that shit nigga, Marcy son, what?

4) D'Angelo - "Devil's Pie"

Returning to the scene after his classic debut album, Brown Sugar, D'Angelo's "Devil's Pie" is a welcomed, soulful addition to the soundtrack. After remixing D'Angelo's hits "You're My Lady" and "Me and Those Dreamin Eyes of Mine," DJ Premier crafted an original production for the crooner. The two distinct styles mesh well together as D'Angelo's smooth, laid-back vocal delivery compliments Premier's use of break-beats and a walking, acoustic bass line. The track perfectly illustrates the magnetic allure of street life that Belly consists of. "Devil's Pie" is a tour de force performance from D'Angelo with some of Premier's finest work.

Notable Collaboration: Who am I to justify/All the evil in our eye/When I myself feel the high/From all that I despise/Behind the jail or in the grave/I have to lay in this bed I made/If I die before I wake/I Hope the lord don't hesitate/To get to heaven, I done went through hell/Tell my peeps all is well/All them fools whose soul's for sale/Sitting next to the Jezebel/Demons screaming in my ear/All my anger all my fear/If I holler let them hear/In this spinning sphere.

3) DMX, Sean Paul & Mr. Vegas - "Top Shotter"

The year 1998 was DMX's. He would post two No. 1 albums on the Billboard 200 chart in the same calendar year and proved that hardcore, New York hip hop could be commercially viable. It seemed he could do no wrong. Displaying his versatility, Dark Man X teamed up Sean Paul and Mr. Vegas for a dancehall classic "Top Shotter." The track combines the rawness of X with rhythmic reggae influence of Paul and Vegas. "Top Shotter" was just the beginning of how reggae/dancehall would make an imprint on the charts in the coming years.

Notable lyrics: Here comes the boom! Boomin, bouncing/Stalkin, must walk in, hawk get to pouncing, Get em where it counts and, hit em like a mountain/Spit em have em spittin out, blood like a fountain/Don't look at me like that, we just might fight black/And that fight, might end up in me takin your life back/I don't, go for the bullshit, cause I've been down/And time is, just too important to be fuckin around.

2) JAY-Z featuring Beanie Sigel & Memphis Bleek - "Crew Love"

The Brooklyn to Philly connection helped Roc-A-Fella era find its genesis and "Crew Love" shows this. Memphis Bleek and Beanie Sigel are in rare form on this track. The chemistry between the two is incontestable and their performance finds them worthy to carry on the name of Roc-A-Fella as the new generals. The string-heavy sample work of D. Trotman provides the perfect sonic landscape for the duo to spit over. Bleek gives a strong performance. But, it's the Monopoly metaphors of Sigel that steal the show with arguably the best verse on the soundtrack. Sigel was making his rounds by destroying every track he got on. With JAY-Z lending a hand on the hook, "Crew Love" is one the finest songs from the Roc-A-Fella camp and one of the best tracks on the Belly soundtrack.

Notable lyrics: And ya'll a bunch talk money/I'm tryin to get it down for that motherfuckin boardwalk money/Two-brick money new blue six money/Peru trip money flew in six money/Taj Mahal trips orange chips money/Long dick money all in yo bitch money/Flow like the flu and spit sick money/Peep hotty's Roc-A-Fella wools route/All black mask down wit they tools out/Beanie mack I'll move out/I had niggas runnin from school pickin new routes/Then I'll run and lick a shot make 'em move south/Switch up they last name get a new spouse/Scrambled up some down-payment for a new house/No matter where you go Mack gone find ya/I'm like a shadow nigga I'm right behind ya/I'll blow out ya brains and won't give ya no reminder.

1) Made Men featuring The LOX - "Tommy's Theme"

"Tommy's Theme" is a six-man collaborative effort between two trios: Made Men and The LOX. Featuring the eerie, keyboard driven production of the Hangmen 3, "Tommy's Theme" is one of the dopest underground tracks of 1998. Styles P and Jadakiss spit their signature back-and-forth flow, followed by a hot sixteen from the Sheek Louch. Benzino, Antonio Twice Thou and Cool Gsus bring up the rear with rhymes that illustrate the aura and character Tommy Bunz. On a soundtrack full of great tracks, "Tommy's Theme" stands out as the crème de la crème of the project.

Notable lyrics: Steady my guns, from the biggest to the littlest ones/.22 behind the ear and the big shit that we kill deers with/Be on the roof, on some Dead President shit/Long scope, barrel all open to the public, I love it/Fuck it, I hafta take a rifle home and hug it/Whatcha know about that, love? Black gloves/No back up, only this vest/Only these teffs, only these lefts/Fishermen knives that cut in your chest/If I get jerked, it's like on nigga in the Army that fuck up/The whole squad gon' do pushups til somebody pays me/But instead of calisthenics, y'all gon' push up daisies/You crazy?

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