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In 1998, few Hollywood stars shined brighter than Chris Tucker, who was in the midst of becoming an crossover megastar and mainstream media darling. Having turned in scene-stealing performances with his appearance in films like Friday, Dead Presidents, Money Talks and The Fifth Element, the Atlanta native and comedic talent snagged his most high-profile role to date when he was cast opposite of Jackie Chan as Detective James Carter in the 1998 blockbuster action comedy Rush Hour, which opened at No. 1 at the box office and grossed over $244 million worldwide.
With a film as anticipated as Rush Hour, there were also high expectations for its soundtrack, and given Tucker’s—an alumni of Def Comedy Jam—hip-hop pedigree, and rap and R&B’s palpable popularity within pop culture, it was a no-brainer to comprise it with the hottest acts from both genres. The result was a compilation that not only achieved platinum status, a noteworthy feat for a soundtrack, but also doubled as a coming-out party for rising talent that were on the verge of becoming household names.
One artist that benefited from their inclusion on the Rush Hour compilation was JAY-Z, who was well respected in rap circles, but had yet to establish himself as a viable star. His 1996 debut, Reasonable Doubt, spawned the Foxy Brown-assisted single “Ain’t No Nigga”—and his appearance alongside Foxy on her 1997 hit “I’ll Be” earned him additional buzz—but 1998 would be the year that things would begin to change, beginning with his collaboration with producer Jermaine Dupri on the track “Money Ain’t a Thang.” Released in promotion of Dupri’s own solo debut, “Money Ain’t a Thang” set the tone for what would be a monstrous year for the Brooklyn native and garnered him heavy airplay on radio and video countdowns. However, the record that would truly catapult JAY-Z to stardom and make his name a familiar one among casual fans was “Can I Get A…,” his contribution to the Rush Hour soundtrack.
Produced by Irv Gotti and Lil’ Rob, and featuring appearances from Roc-A-Fella’s First Lady Amil and Ja Rule, a relative newcomer on the scene at the time, “Can I Get A…” quickly caught fire, skyrocketing to No. 19 on the Billboard Hot 100, giving Jigga his first Top 20 hit as lead artist, as well as his first platinum plaque, in the process. With a music video directed by Steve Carr that included cameos from actor Chris Penn and Jermaine Dupri, as well as cut-scenes from the movie, “Can I Get A…” also received heavy airplay on MTV, which helped play a large part in introducing JAY-Z to middle America and beyond. Weeks after the release of the Rush Hour soundtrack, Vol 2… Hard Knock Life, Hov’s third studio album, hit shelves and became his first to debut atop the Billboard 200—which was due, in large part, to the buzz surrounding “Can I Get A…” and its connection to the Rush Hour film.
In addition to boosting JAY-Z’s own popularity, “Can I Get A…” served as the highlight of Amil’s short-lived career, but also helped jumpstart Ja Rule’s, who had yet to appear on a charting single at that time. Rule, who was tapped by Irv Gotti as the flagship artist on his Def Jam imprint, Murder Inc. Records, made the most of his appearance, delivering a standout verse to anchor the track and create intrigue as to what the unknown talent had coming next. Fans would get a taste of what the Hollis, Queens native had to offer on “Bitch Betta Have My Money,” the rapper’s solo contribution to the Rush Hour soundtrack, but would have to wait until the release of his debut, Venni Vetti Vicci, the following summer to get a full dose of Ja Rule.
JAY-Z, Amil and Ja Rule may have been responsible for the biggest rap song on the soundtrack, but the project is more than the sum of its parts and boasts some of the most legendary names in hip-hop. Wu-Tang Clan squad up on “And You Don’t Stop,” an oriental-tinged selection that finds various members of the Clan swinging their swords over production by Dame Grease, while Slick Rick drops couplets on “Impress The Kid,” one of numerous cuts the veteran emcee put forth while mounting his comeback on the rap scene (which culminated the following year with his fourth studio album, The Art of Storytelling). Continuing their hot streak of soundtrack and guest appearances, Fat Joe, Big Pun and the rest of Terror Squad get grisly on “Terror Squadians,” one of the superior inclusions on the soundtrack. But two of the more potent rap tracks can be found on the latter half in “N.B.C.” and “Tell The Feds.” “N.B.C.,” which pairs Charli Baltimore with Noreaga and Cam’ron, finds the trio matching wits over a beat produced by Digga, while “Tell The Feds” finds Too $hort ducking the long arm of the law and waxing poetic about his legal hustle.
For all of its firepower and A-list contributors on the hip-hop side of things, some of the most memorable moments on the Rush Hour soundtrack can be attributed to the R&B talent that appear throughout its 25 tracks, including two of the compilation’s biggest hits, “How Deep Is You Love” and “Faded Pictures.” Released as the lead single from the compilation, “How Deep Is Your Love” was Dru Hill’s highest charting single to date, peaking at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 and further establishing Sisqo and the group as bonafide superstars. Accompanied by a Brett Ratner-directed music video, which was shot in Wan Chai, Hong Kong, “How Deep Is Your Love” became Dru Hill’s second contribution to a soundtrack to become a smash single and remains one of the group’s signature songs. In contrast, “Faded Pictures,” which paired crooners Case and Joe, would not achieve the same chart success as the soundtrack’s other singles, but became a sleeper hit among R&B enthusiasts and is regarded as one of the classic contemporary R&B cuts from its era.
Similar to the actual film, the Rush Hour soundtrack was one of the major highlights of 1998 and was the subject of immense hype, debuting at No. 5 on the Billboard 200 and earning gold certification within a month of its release, eventually surpassing the million-copies-sold mark, making it one of the more commercially successful soundtracks of its time. While it is often overlooked in the conversation surrounding the more iconic soundtracks to the hip-hop community, due in part to Rush Hour being an action-comedy not directly geared towards the urban demographic like other films in the canon, 20 years later, the film’s soundtrack is noteworthy for helping assist in the creation of new superstars and showcasing veteran talent.
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