How Does a 'Shaft' Soundtrack Get Made Without Isaac Hayes? (Guest Op-Ed)

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The legendary soul singer’s son gives a behind-the-scenes look

After attending an advance screening of the new Shaft movie this Tuesday, without a doubt I can say the film is excellent. It’s a laugh-out-loud comedy that has action and black culture humor all the way through. The latest installment of the franchise, it’s a must-see summer movie. 

But there’s one thing that will be noticeably absent from the film and the soundtrack, released today (June 7): the iconic, Oscar-winning theme written and performed by my father, Isaac Hayes

Released in 1971, the original Shaft soundtrack changed the landscape of motion picture soundtracks forever. Not only did it win an Academy Award -- the first by an African-American composer -- and two Grammys, it ushered in a wave of black motion picture soundtracks like Super Fly, The Mack and Trouble Man, which elevated the films to another level of notoriety by using great original music to market and promote them.

The problem is that the 2019 Shaft soundtrack, released through WaterTower Music/Warner Bros. Pictures, is nothing short of a disaster. 

In the summer of 2017, I received a call from the creative team for the film. As manager of my late father's estate, I made everyone aware that my family owns hundreds of unreleased Isaac Hayes masters that could be used for the new Shaft film, including the master to the 2000 Samuel L. Jackson-starring, John Singleton-directed movie.

On the call, I expressed interest in having the estate participate in the creation of the new Shaft soundtrack, a decision that I learned at the time would be up to New Line Cinema. After we hung up, I felt very confident that the studio and the estate would be able to work together to create a dope, contemporary Shaft soundtrack. It was a no-brainer. Unreleased Isaac Hayes masters to be made into new records for a Shaft soundtrack? This would be genius marketing and a great way to honor and continue Isaac’s musical legacy.

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To provide some context into making such a bold attempt on my part to create the soundtrack, I let them know that Isaac Hayes samples have been a part of five multi-platinum, platinum and gold records over the past five years. Songs like “Here” by Alessia Cara, “6 Inch” by Beyoncé and “Transportin’” by Kodak Black, are all built on Isaac Hayes samples. Even today, the No. 1 adult R&B song for the fourth week in a row is “You” by Roc Nation artist Nicole Bus, featuring another Isaac Hayes sample. There was also expressed interest from Def Jam, Motown, Hitco, Atlantic and Roc Nation about partnering with our label [Hot Buttered Soul Recordings] to produce and distribute the soundtrack.

But after numerous attempts at creating something epic and unique, we were given no seat at the table. New Line and WaterTower failed this movie, the legacy of Shaft, Isaac Hayes, and the fans of black motion picture soundtracks. The soundtrack released today is nothing more than previously-recorded songs licensed for the film and the score. No new original songs except for the Quavo-recorded “Too Much Shaft,” which doesn’t even sound finished or mixed by the studio. It doesn’t have one Isaac Hayes record. They put a James Brown song on the Shaft soundtrack, but no Isaac Hayes.

I wanted to write this letter to let the fans of Isaac Hayes and of the Shaft films know that I did all I could to create something as authentic and true to the Shaft brand as my father would have. 

I’d ask in the future that New Line Cinema, Warner Bros. Pictures and WaterTower Music hire or listen to the African-American culture creators and personnel that understand what black music means to films like Shaft. Respect the legacy of Isaac Hayes, who paved the way and heavily contributed to allowing the studio to continue to profit off the Shaft brand some 48 years later.
The film is great. The only thing missing is the iconic theme from Shaft. But I am confident that there will be another Shaft film some day and those hi-hats, that signature wah-wah guitar and those unforgettable Isaac Hayes lyrics will kick off another chapter in the saga of Shaft.

And we will dig it.

Ed. Note: The Shaft theme is featured prominently in the film via the orchestral score.