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Fight the Power With Spike Lee

With a creative career spanning more than three decades, Brooklyn-raised filmmaker Spike Lee has proven himself to be an epic storyteller, a savvy cinematic master, who revolutionized the role of Black people in cinema. From award-winning biopics like Malcolm X to groundbreaking sociopolitical thrillers, his thought-provoking work has reflected on issues of race, politics, and the black American experience. 

Music has played a powerful role in Spike Lee’s joints since his first filmmaking steps. Even though today his films’ music echoes the name of the renowned jazz trumpeter-composer Terence Blanchard, with whom Lee has been working for three decades, the first person who wrote music for his films was his father. Bill Lee was a musician and produced the scores for several of Spike Lee’s early movies, including the 1986 comedy-drama She’s Gotta Have It (1986). With Spike Lee’s music-drenched roots influencing to a great extent the way he makes films, it is clear that the music in his films is designed to echo the action on screen. 

Here is a playlist with some bold music tracks from Lee’s films. Public Enemy, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Ella Fitzgerald are some of the artists whose voices and music have served as a weapon in Lee’s film arsenal. It might seem at first that taking these different music tracks out of context and putting them in a playlist reduces their importance but in the end, the connection between the music, the history behind it, and the film is always there. 

Fight the Power with Spike Lee. Start by listening to James Brown calling for black empowerment in his 1968 funk classic ‘Say it Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud’ or ‘Mary Don’t You Weep’ by Prince that plays over archive footage from Charlottesville in the 2018 film BlacKkKlansman.

Music from the films:

She’s Gotta Have It (1986)

  • Comin’ from Another Place, by Strafe

Do the Right Thing (1989)

  • Fight the Power, by Public Enemy

  • Can’t Stand It, by Steel Pulse

  • Why Don’t We Try, by Keith John

  • Party Hearty, by Experience Unlimited (as EU)

  • My Fantasy, by Teddy Riley featuring Guy

Mo’ Better Blues (1990)

  • Mo’ Better Blues, by Branford Marsalis Quartet, Terence Blanchard

Jungle Fever (1991)

  • Queen in the Black, by Stevie Wonder

  • Gotta Have You, by Stevie Wonder

  • Jungle Fever, by Stevie Wonder

  • Lighting Up the Candles, by Stevie Wonder

Malcolm X (1992)

  • Revolution, by Arrested Development

  • Azure, by Ella Fitzgerald

  • Shotgun, by Jr. Walker and the All Stars

  • Feedin’ The Bean, by Count Basie 

  • Someday We’ll All Be Free, by Aretha Franklin

Crooklyn (1994)

  • Crooklyn, by The Crooklyn Dodgers featuring Special Ed, Buckshot, and Masta Ace

  • Pusherman, by Curtis Mayfield

  • Mighty Love, by The Spinners

  • People Make the World Go Round, by The Stylistics

  • Soul Power, by James Brown

Clockers (1995)

  • Return of the Crooklyn Dodgers, by Crooklyn Dodgers ‘95

  • Blast of the Iron, by Rebelz of Authority

  • Reality, by Brooklynytes

25th hour (2002)

  • The Fuse, by Bruce Springsteen

  • The Message, by Cymande

  • Put the Music Where Your Mouth Is, by Olympic Runners

BlacKkKlansman (2018)

  • Blut Und Boden (Blood and Soil), by Terence Blanchard

  • Say It Loud - I’m Black and I’m Proud (Parts 1 & 2), by James Brown and Pee Wee Ellis

  • Mary Don’t You Weep, by Prince