That Cat Shaft Is A Bad ...

Most "soundtrack" albums these days aren't songs composed for or even heard in said movie. But I've moved past that, and if one must be subjected to a haphazard collection of potential hit singles, then subject me to the Music From and Inspired by Shaft. From my perspective, it sounds like the folks at La Face — album coordinators Kawan Prather, Bill Stephney and L.A. Reid — got it right.

I'll go out on a limb and guess the wah-wah rhapsody of manliness — "The Theme From Shaft" (RealAudio excerpt) — most likely is in the film. And since this remake (which to my, um, mature ears sounds exactly like the original, just a bit more digitized) is delivered by the superlative Isaac Hayes (who did the original), this soundtrack gets off on the right foot.

Assuming any of the cuts containing vibey/vampy/porn/blaxploitaion grooves are in the film, that attention to sonic detail — the fact that the producers of this soundtrack attempted to make some link between what could have just as easily been a bunch of songs — is admirable and cool. Naturally, Shaft features a who's who of "urban" talent — in this case, practically all of LaFace's roster — but to its credit, even though this is some shortcut marketing tool (shut yo' mouth!), for the most part it doesn't feel that way.

Case in point: The always reliable R. Kelly delivers two winners — the bluesy old-school "Bad Man" (RealAudio excerpt) (inspirational verse: "Yea though I walk through the valley of these streets/ I shall not feel these streets/ 'Cause I run these streets/ And I paid my dues with five pennies/ I'm a bad man") and the soul-drenched "Up and Outta Here," the latter of which has a Saturday-night-uptown-pimpy feel married to a hand-wringing-love lyric.

R&B man of the moment Carl Thomas comes correct with the aching, Latin-tinged "Summer Rain," while Donell Jones proves he's more than a one-hit wonder with the shuffle groove sway "Do What I Gotta Do." The underrated Sleepy Brown (from the Organized Noize collective) kicks in with the gritty, hip-hop infused "Automatic" (RealAudio excerpt). Also funky is Big Gipp from Goodie MOb with the southern-fried throw down "We Servin'." Fact is, most of the cuts on Shaft sound fine: perfect for barbecues, summer jams and late night macking.

Like the man said: right on.