Most movie soundtracks work the same way: collect a dozen random old songs readily available elsewhere, collect a dozen “new songs” that are just studio scraps that didn’t make any artists’ albums, or a bit of both. And while this formula often produces unnecessary and/or uninteresting compilations, Freedom Writers is an exception. Mixing classic hip-hop songs, creative new and original music, and some refreshing score work courtesy of will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas, the soundtrack provides a solid and cohesive body of work sure to please several generations’ worth of hip-hop fans.
Common and will.i.am deliver the original theme for Freedom Writers, “A Dream.” Built around a bed of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech and will.i.am’s Rhodes and synthesizers, the anthemic song finds Common rapping inspirational tales decrying racism and promoting unity. Talib Kweli’s Ear Drum single “Listen!!!” is featured as well. While the song finds little in common thematically with the movie, it fits in well musically.
Classic hip-hop is well represented on Freedom Writers, with an emphasis on jazzy songs driven by drum and bass. From the jazzier “Rebirth of Slick” by Digable Planets and “Officer” by Pharcyde, to the more radio friendly “Hip-Hop Hooray” by Naughty By Nature and “When The Shit Goes Down” by Cypress Hill, a nice chunk of the early ‘90s is well represented. 2Pac’s “Keep Ya Head Up,” which plays an important role in the film, is also available.
With the recent of success of hip-hop producers like Rza making it in the film scoring business, will.i.am tries his hand with Freedom Writers. With help from violinist Miri Ben-Ari and composer Mark Isham, he provides reflective backdrops with a decisively hip-hop flavor. Strangely, some of the songs, like “Colors,” sound like full fledged beats made for someone to rap over, but for whatever reason, are relegated to being part of the score. The score songs continue to show a side of will.i.am that has begun surfacing as of late and has made him one of the most in-demand producers in music.
Freedom Writers isn’t perfect. The inclusion of a reggaeton song, “It’s R Time,” by Jeannie Ortega, and Montell Jordan’s “This Is How We Do It” are questionable and are musically jarring next to overall melancholy of the rest of the soundtrack. But as an overall album, Freedom Writers manages to maintain a fairly cohesive theme both in subject matter and musicality.