March 1, 2001

Behind Bars

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This just in: prison sucks. That’s the concept of the television show Oz, which journeys behind the wired fence into the violent world of a maximum security penitentiary. And now, on the heels of the show’s success, comes the ultimate attempt to cash in on it, the soundtrack album.

Going with the whole violent crime theme of the show, the album’s producers gathered an impressive roster of stars from America’s most violent music, hip-hop. (Rumor on the street has it that Pavarotti and the other Tenors were busy.) Obviously aiming to lure in unsuspecting music fans, big names like Snoop Dogg and the Wu-Tang Clan are wedged in between lesser known stars.

Unfortunately, their songs all seem like rejected tracks from their solo work. Stale beats like the listless party vibe of Snoop’s “Land of Oz” seem out-of-place, unless race wars and work detail are really much more festive than Oz makes them out to be. This is the album’s main problem: when making a soundtrack album for a prison drama, there’s only room for dark and gloomy. That makes for an extremely monotonous, not to mention depressing, listen.

The uniform setting of Oz renders it different from other shows, such as Beverly Hills 90210, that have been blessed with their own soundtracks. There definitely won’t be any wack videos of hip-hop all-stars frolicking in the halls of a prison. The album also won’t have any breakout singles, because to put it simply, misery doesn’t sell so well.

Oz could have been saved from monotony if any of the artists had actually come through with inspired efforts. If even a handful of the album’s sixteen tracks had been on the level of Beanie Sigel’s powerful prison rumination “What’s Your Life Like,” (from his debut album The Truth), it would be easier to overlook a little bit of repetition.Instead, listeners are treated to emotionless drivel like Master P’s “Locked Up,” which was obviously inspired by nothing more than the paycheck it would produce.

No matter how bright the artist’s star power, almost every rapper on this compilation sleeps through their performance. One of the only exceptions to this is hip-hop legend Kool G Rap, who since signing a deal with Rawkus Entertainment has reverted to the ferocity that characterized him in his prime. On “Oz Theme 2000,” Rap, along with Lord Jamar and Talib Kweli, gives a true sense of imprisonment with violent lyrics like “If you doing shift in the kitchen blood’ll leak in the pot/ Just a long game of sheep and the fox/ Phone time, beef for your slot, the shit’ll make you weep in your cot.”

But even this performance by one of reality-based rap’s pioneers isn’t enough to save this otherwise embarrassingly unimaginative soundtrack. Trite song titles like “Behind The Walls,” and “Incarcerated” show what happens when hastily trying to throw together an album in order to capitalize on a hot commodity. Although greed and money are a fundamental part of a lot of great hip-hop music, Oz: The Soundtrack proves that it can’t be the sole reason to make music.

Archived article by Mike Giusto