In 2019, a documentary about the making of 2 Chainz’ Rap or Go to the League was released to the rap public. The documentary features LeBron James as a faux A&R guy, directing Tity Boi on how many tracks he should put on the record. LeBron talks to Chainz about his idea of releasing a deluxe version of the album two weeks later as if he invented fire. “Thank you for taking this ride with me. Here’s two more.” It was hilarious, goofy, and completely in earnest: LeBron was doing his version of the satirical Popstar documentary. It was also exactly what LeBron detractors thought was going to happen when he signed with the Lakers. It was less about basketball and more about the worldwide branding he could do in Hollywood.
Enter the Space Jam 2 soundtrack. Take a look at some of this lineup: Chance the Rapper and John Legend, both of whom have never saw a check they didn’t like, G-Eazy, Jonas Brothers, and Joyner Lucas, who must have won this opportunity via a contest on YouTube. The soundtrack to the original Space Jam featured good music and has become a generational totem. What would that movie be without “I Believe I Can Fly” or Seal’s “Fly Like an Eagle?” They are songs that added to the mystique of Michael Jordan. LeBron has a genuinely inspiring story of making it out without any of the advantages people outside his environment took for granted. Why doesn’t this movie try to add to it? The album fails at that in a way that makes me take it as personally as Michael Jordan before an elimination game.
There are attempts to summon that kind of inspirational mood. On “Settle the Score,” rapper Cordrae offers, “New me, nothing’s impossible/Go harder so I go farther.” But it sounds like he isn’t doing much more than taking over the lane that Common chose after he started making music for liberal white people. If that leaden moment wasn’t enough, Chance the Rapper joins the impending capitalist doom to sound like an even worse version of Kendrick Perkins — if that was somehow possible. The Jonas Brothers track has them sounding particularly washed, with Nick Jonas blandly telling us that you can turn him on like a TV. The inclusion of a Brockhampton song might’ve been a nice idea — but when you put it after the Damian Lillard track, which is so bad the Portland Trail Blazers should’ve traded him after hearing it, you’re too terrified to even listen to go near it.
The Just Blaze produced Lil Baby and Kirk Franklin track “We Win” is good — so good that it doesn’t fit. Baby remains a consistent rapper who has a flow that sounds like an animal stalking its prey. He walks and then pounces when a crescendo hits. It’s not something that would’ve made it on My Turn, but it’s the best song on this record. Lil Uzi Vert’s “Pump Up the Jam” sounds like a good idea, but it is hardly something that could’ve been on Eternal Atake. He wants to go for something like Lil Wayne’s “Kobe Bryant” but that song makes a real attempt to reflect Kobe’s greatness. Uzi would be great for a fun track about just how great LeBron is at basketball. Instead, he just name drops Space Jam too many times. The production is corny, like DJ Khaled A&R’d the album, and sounds like “Cooler Than Me” by Mike Posner had a bastard child with “All I Do Is Win.”
It genuinely matters that we make good art for kids. The things that I watched as a kid made me have opinions about what I was watching, and want to discuss them with my friends the next morning. It made me dream. Nobody who writes about this soundtrack wants it to be bad, but something for kids shouldn’t be this manufactured. The messages in pop culture for kids can inform a new generation and create memories that are passed down to the next generations. Or, it can just be plain old fun. Instead, this movie is stale and the soundtrack is worse. As opposed to celebrating the past and making us look towards the future, Space Jam: A New Legacy feels like it only exists to force us to buy the products marketed alongside it. It is masturbatory and transparently so. It makes the 2 Chainz/LeBron look like Biggie and Puff.