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Why Motown Wanted Creative Stake In the ‘Queen & Slim’ Soundtrack

When Motown Records president Ethiopia Habtemariam first heard about Queen & Slim last April, she envisioned a soundtrack that would match the movie's social and political messaging -- and engage…

When Motown Records president Ethiopia Habtemariam first heard about Queen & Slim last April, she envisioned a soundtrack that would match the movie’s social and political messaging — and engage fans, thanks to her experience at Motown and Universal Music Publishing Group. So she met with the film’s director Melina Matsoukas (Beyoncé’s “Formation” video), and discovered that they wanted the same thing: to recall the ‘90s-early 2000s soundtrack heyday propelled by black cultural touchstones such as Love Jones, Boomerang, The Nutty Professor, Love & Basketball and Above the Rim

“Those were tight, seamless albums with tracks that really resonated, and still resonate, with people,” says Habtemariam. “There was a bigger goal involved here than having one big single. It was about serving the art.” In May, Motown secured the deal.


With Queen & Slim — in which Oscar nominee Daniel Kaluuya and newcomer Jodie Turner-Smith play a couple on the run after killing a police officer in self-defense — Motown joins the growing list of labels taking a creative stake in soundtracks, like this year’s Beyoncé-curated The Lion King: The Gift (Parkwood Entertainment/Columbia) or 2018’s Teen Spirit (Interscope). It’s not Motown’s first soundtrack — its history dates back to the ‘70s and ‘80s with Cooley High, The Woman in Red and The Big Chill — but it is the first lead by an all-female team, including label vp A&R Lindsey Lanier, vp artist relations/marketing Britney Davis and Capitol’s senior vp global creative Amber Grimes. “It’s another door opening,” says Habtemariam, “especially for black women.”

Featuring new songs by Megan Thee Stallion, Ms. Lauryn Hill and Burna Boy, and including four Motown artists, the soundtrack punctuates Queen and Slim’s emotional road trip with a mix of blues, soul, bounce, hip-hop and contemporary R&B. Beyond Megan Thee Stallion and VickeeLo’s defiant “Ride or Die” and Hill’s reflective “Guarding the Gates,” her first new song in five years, the collection of original and previously unreleased tracks boasts Lil Baby’s insightful “Catch the Sun” and two compelling love songs: Vince Staples’ “Yo Love” featuring 6lack & Mereba and “Collide” from new Motown signee and British soul singer Tiana Major9 featuring EarthGang. The latter track climbs to No. 15 on Adult R&B for the week of Dec. 14.


Among the 16-track album’s previously released offerings are Moses Sumney’s “Doomed” and The-Dream’s “Cedes Benz” The soundtrack also revisits genre gems from Mike Jones featuring Slim Thug and Paul Wall (“Still Tippin’”), Roy Ayers (“Searching”) and Bilal. The latter’s “Soul Sista”–reprised here as “Soul Sista Remix” with guest/original producer Raphael Saadiq — appeared 20 years ago on the Love & Basketball soundtrack.

Now, with Queen & Slim out, Habtemariam — who executive produced the soundtrack with Matsoukas and the film’s screenwriter Lena Waithe — is exploring future film and TV projects. “Motown wants to bring people back to the importance of a full soundtrack experience,” she says, “telling stories through music that speaks for and to our black culture.”

This article originally appeared in the Dec. 14 issue of Billboard.