3. Crooklyn Dodgers "Crooklyn" (1994)
Label: MCA Records
The only rap track recorded for the soundtrack to Crooklyn, Brooklyn director Spike Lee's semi-autobiographical coming-of-age film about an African-American family struggling to get by in 1973 Bed-Stuy, "Crooklyn Dodgers" stood out from classic '70s funk and soul by legends like Sly & the Family Stone ("Everyday People"), Curtis Mayfield ("Pusherman"), and The Jackson 5 ("ABC") with a hardcore theme and its impressive lineup of Brooklyn hip-hop stars: Buckshot (hot off of Black Moon's 1993 debut Enta da Stage), Masta Ace (who'd followed up his work on the classic 1988 Juice Crew posse cut "The Symphony" and solo hits "Music Man" and "Me & the Biz" with 1993's gangsta rap mocking gem SlaughtaHouse), and Special Ed (who'd dropped the ultimate Flatbush anthem, "The Bush," on his stellar 1989 debut Youngest in Charge).
Over crackling production from Q-Tip, who opened and closed the song with a radio broadcast sample of Brooklyn Dodgers icon Jackie Robinson at the plate, the trio spit about the changing, hardening face of their borough, referencing the simpler '70s ("I remember way back in the days/Playing hot peas and butter.") while focusing on the perils of BK in the '90s ("Panic, as another manic depressive/Adolescent stares at death/Now what's left/When there ain't no God/And a whole lot of pride?/It might be a homicide."). The picture painted is a grim one, a reminder of what had been lost (a pride-supplying baseball team, innocence), but ultimately the song is a cause for optimism, weaving together Black Brooklyn's finest, from Robinson and Lee to the MCs, in a show of what's still possible. As the Dodgers sample triumphantly declares thrice at the end, Brooklyn wins. —Justin Monroe