With tracks by hard-core rapper Xzibit and R&B veteran Ronald Isley alongside cuts by country singer Trisha Yearwood, the soundtrack to the Eddie Murphy/Martin Lawrence movie "Life" is nothing if not eclectic.
Yet it has a cohesive flow, conjuring the sounds that evolved during the six-decade time period covered in the film. At times it recalls the soul music of the '50s, and at others the toughness of the current era.
And that's just what soul artist R. Kelly -- who produced nine tracks -- and supervising producer Sheryl Cobb wanted the soundtrack to do.
"[Kelly] wanted to create something that was a timepiece," said Cobb, president of Rock Land Records, Kelly's record label. "It had to be music that would last for the next 10 years."
The movie, which chronicles the struggle of two men trying to tolerate each other during six decades in prison, continues to do well at the box office, having grossed $46.2 million in three weeks of release. The album is also selling well, sitting at #17 on this week's Billboard 200 albums chart.
One of its songs, singer Maxwell's "Fortunate" (RealAudio excerpt), is at #38 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart.
Kelly wrote 10 of the tracks on the album and sings "It's Like Everyday," which he collaborated on with DJ Quik. Fugees rapper Wyclef Jean wrote the movie's score and co-produced or wrote the album's other five songs.
At a New York tribute to the late rapper Notorious B.I.G. in March, Jean, 27, said he was proud of his work on the film. "I'm the first hip-hop kid ever to do a movie score," he said.
With partner Jerry "Wonder" Duplessis, Jean wrote "New Day" (RealAudio excerpt) for the soundtrack. The song is a Marvin Gaye-inspired soul number with a stylized percussion arrangement and saxophone by Kenny G. The vocal track carries echoes of Gaye's 1971 hit What's Going On and the mid-1970s work of Curtis Mayfield ("Superfly").
But the album is dominated by Kelly. Jimmy Iovine, president of Interscope Records, approached Kelly about the soundtrack in November, Cobb said. It took one screening to convince him to sign on.
Kelly wanted the music to tie both to individual sequences and to the movie as a whole, Cobb said.
The soaring, romantic "Fortunate" details a scene -- cut from the movie's final print -- in which a girlfriend of Murphy and Lawrence visits them in prison. But "Life" (RealAudio excerpt), sung on the album by Jodeci's K-Ci and JoJo, was written as the theme song for the complete film.
Cobb said Kelly wrote "Life" as an homage to the crooners of the '50s and '60s.
"Robert wanted to do something to explain the movie," Cobb said. "And he felt that K-Ci and JoJo had that real raspy, R&B sound."
The soundtrack took six weeks to put together, and Kelly wrote 17 songs in the first week, Cobb said.
Kelly carefully selected the singers he wanted to work with early on, according to Cobb. For "Follow the Wind," Cobb said, Kelly asked to hear samples of every popular female singer working in the music industry.
"This was his 'I Believe I Can Fly' song," she said. "He wanted a pop artist, and when he heard Trisha Yearwood he thought she was perfect."
Kelly and Jean did not come in contact during the making of the album. But they did encounter each other in New York two weeks ago. They filmed a special on the film's music set to air in syndication. During the filming, they jammed and shared laughs, Cobb said.
"They have a mad respect for each other," she said. "They were both delighted to play together."
Other artists on the album include singers Kelly Price, Mya and Brian McKnight, girl group Destiny's Child, and rappers Ja Rule, Nature, Reptile and Juvenile, who worked with Xzibit on "25 to Life," the album's lead track.