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Soundtracking The Scene: Big Daddy Kane in '25th Hour'

By Stereo Williams

Soundtracking the Scene is an opportunity to look at how Hip-Hop classics have been used in famous movie scenes. Some of our most iconic filmmakers have masterfully incorporated these songs into some of our most acclaimed films; here we examine the synergy. 

Spike Lee is a quintessentially New York director. The vast majority of the Brooklyn native's oeuvre takes place in The City That Never Sleeps; from the summer tension of Do The Right Thing to the brownstone nostalgia of Crooklyn and the paranoid fever dream that is Summer Of Sam. With 2002s brooding and stylish 25th Hour, Lee delivered one of his strongest efforts of the 2000s, and a brilliant showcase for Oscar nominee Edward Norton. 

25th Hour is Lee's first post-9/11 work, and the film is rich with both the filmmaker's affection for his city and his anxiety about where NYC was in the early 2000s following a massive tragedy. More directly, it's the story of a man facing prison with all kinds of questions about how he's spent his life and who he's spent it with. It's a heady performance from Norton as the hapless Monty, with strong performances all around from a supporting cast that includes Barry Pepper, Rosario Dawson, Anna Paquin, Brian Cox and the late, great Phillip Seymour Hoffman. 

Pepper is Monty's misogynist stock trading best friend Frank, with Hoffman as their other shlubby, introverted friend Jacob, a high school literature teacher. Dawson is Monty's girlfriend Naturelle, who may or may not have something to do with why he's about to go to prison for seven years. And Paquin is Hoffman's 17-year old student, Mary, about whom Jacob worries he harbors inappropriate feelings for. 

They all meet up for one last night on the town with Monty before he's off to the pokey. At a popular nightspot, Monty and Co. enter as the hottest DJ spins Hip-Hop tunes (they lie about Mary's age to get her in after she spots Jacob while she's waiting outside with her friends). 

Lee sets the scene perfectly and in trademark "Spike" fashion; there's the ever-present Spike Lee dolly shot as Monty surveys the crowd, the darkness of the club contrasts brilliantly with the actors as Mary chatters on and Jacob seems increasingly uncomfortable with her presence. And in the background, pulsing over the gyrating clubgoers, is Big Daddy Kane's ever-distinct baritone. 

"Come, get some/You little bum..."I take the cake, but you can't get a crumb..."

Lee knows how to effectively use music; some of his most gripping scenes have been undercut by legendary artists: like Public Enemy for Do The Right Thing's righteous rage, and The Who for Summer of Sam's chaotic, murderous violence.

And Hip-Hop is a language he speaks. His use of "Warm It Up, Kane" in the scene is perfect; it reminds anyone who needed a refresher that this track will always sound good booming out of club speakers. There's also enough coiled energy in "Warm It Up, Kane" to speak to the simmering tensions within this group of characters: Jacob is nervous about Mary being at a club with her teacher; Frank is harboring resentment towards Monty; who is carrying misgivings regarding his trust of Naturelle. It all percolates perfectly against the backdrop of a Hip-Hop banger wafting through a crowded Manhattan nightclub. 

It's A Big Daddy Thing was Kane's second album, and it was his first without Marley Marl as the dominating presence on the production. Kane produced "Warm It Up, Kane," and a large portion of the album, on his own. 

"It’s a Big Daddy Thing was always my favorite," Kane told Okayplayer in 2019. "I’ve always liked Big Daddy Thing better than Long Live the Kane. I feel like on Long Live the Kane, I hadn’t really seen much. I could only really talk about what I had seen in the hood. On It’s a Big Daddy Thing, I had a broader spectrum. I just had seen a whole lot more at that time, so I could relate to so many more people."

The broader spectrum armed Kane with enough creative inspiration to craft an album that arguably bested his classic debut, and "Warm It Up, Kane," though positioned towards the end of It's A Big Daddy Thing, serves as a sort of centerpiece for it's spirit. 

"Warm It Up, Kane" is one of Kane's sharpest lyrical showcases and a testament to his talents as a producer. In 25th Hour, Lee brilliantly fused it to one of the movie's most memorable scenes; a stellar showcase for both men's creativity and a reminder that Brooklyn synergy kind of comes naturally.