• Stuart Large

Melina Matsoukas curates classy soundtrack for her first feature film: Queen & Slim

Melina Matsoukas was already a talented and accomplished Director, so it was no revelation that her first Feature Film would receive plaudits. All the same it's highly impressive to have transitioned from directing Video shorts for the likes of Beyonce, Jennifer Lopez and Snoop Dog and award winning TV series to her Directorial debut with Queen & Slim based on the story by the American writer, James Frey.

If you haven’t seen the film yet, what are you waiting for? Released at cinemas in 2019 and on streaming this year, it tells the story of a forgettable Tinder first date between Queen (Jodie Turner-Smith), a slightly arrogant defence lawyer, and the affable family-centric ‘Slim’ (Daniel Kaluuya). Events transpire that on the car journey home together they commit a crime under Police duress and are faced with a life-changing decision. Of course there is really only one option, which Queen makes a compelling case for, and at that point they make a bond to leave their current lives behind in to maintain their freedom.

The two lead protagonists are incongruous for sure and tense exchanges prevail in close proximity during the road-trip. The soundtrack artfully provokes sympathy for both characters as their personality flaws unfold in front of us with each twist, turn and chapter. Early on we hear Soul Sista, Bilal & Raphael Saadiq and the melancholic Yo Love ‘i would probably swing a knife for your love’ sing Vince Staples & 6lack Mereba.

Matsoukas told journalist Miranda Sawyer, in a deep-dive interview, how she had decided the soundtrack would have its own role in the Film’s narrative and set out a list of artists she wanted to contribute. Once clear on who that was she approached them and said ‘we want you to submit a track for the film : this is the genre, are you interested? If so we need it in two weeks.’ Unashamedly, she says ‘this is the turnaround my clients expect from me, and so these artists did it for me’. Her pitches were bold, she turned to a close friend in Motown Records for advice and before you know it, the demos were flying in. Most noteworthy was Lauryn Hill’s Guard the Gates which arrived close to the final cut: Matsouka’s tact of ‘fortune favours the brave’ paid off handsomely much to her surprise.

‘When we collide / it’s a beautiful disaster’ sings Tiana Major9 who is augmented by Earthgang on the stand-out track. Collide oozes class with its hypnotic riff, gentle waves of sound and a vocal that’s both heartfelt and rangy.

The track not featured on the soundtrack is a ‘round midnight-style Blues number which articulates a pivotal shift in the relationship, as Slim coerces a reluctant Queen to dance to the live band (Little Freddie King) playing Pocket Full of Money: it’s a dark, steamy atmosphere and whilst they are strangers to the town, they are rapidly becoming infamous due to the media frenzy concerning their whereabouts. It all knits together into a dramatic and emotional climax assisted by the soundtrack right to the final beat.

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