Soundtrack review: Best shot (Hylton & Yoffee – 2018)
“Best Shot” is the YouTube Original documentary series that follows ESPN Analyst and former NBA star Jay Williams as he mentors Newark Central High School’s basketball team. Working with Newark native Coach Shawn “OG” McCray, Williams will lend his NBA-caliber expertise to cultivate a winning spirit by helping this team of young men achieve their greatest potential. The series is directed by Emmy nominee John Michael Warren and executive produced by LeBron James and Maverick Carter from SpringHill Entertainment as well as Andrew Fried, Dane Lillegard and Jordan Wynn from Boardwalk Pictures. The composing duo Hylton and Yoffee wrote the score and this is my first contact with their music.
I see that YouTube is going all in not only with original content shows but also with releasing scores, this is the third YouTube show score in the last couple of months after “Cobra Kai” and “Impulse”. I saw on the track list that more than half of the tracks have a “featuring” next to them and this mix of score cues and vocal songs usually throws me off but this being a sports drama, it could work, like in the beautiful and poignant opening track “Success story” which is a beautiful piano based piece where the voice of Scotty Grand, I imagine, just hums a heroic, hymn like section at the end. The next cue “Clear your mind” also features someone but once again it’s just a subtle beatboxing. I enjoy this fusion. There are of course full rap tracks as well with a very consistent instrumental undertone that I enjoy.
The composers didn’t go overly dramatic or epic with this one; there are heroic and inspirational passages that work very well without being overwhelming. The rap comes back and it brings 90s nostalgia for me because this is the R&B sound that was big in the 90s when I used to listen to it a lot, the times of Dr. Dre and Warren G and the others, a gentles, more lyrics and melodic oriented kind of rap than the aggressive one that runs these days. Often I skip vocal tracks in scores but not this time, since the flow very well with the score cues. Plus the aforementioned nostalgia that I would never give up on. Even more so, tracks like “Loss” remind me of the intros, interludes and outros of 90s and early 00s rap albums when the musicians would present instrumental variations of some of the album tracks. This one features Gary Thomas at the sax and it’s just great.
The more I listen to the quiet emotional musings of this score, be they instrumental only or vocal as well, the more I love this fusion and I drift away from the film score mood and just sway and let the smooth R&b vibes sooth me. “Best shot” is really an achievement because, like I said, regardless of the genre, when I review I skip the vocal songs, sometimes even in musicals, but not this time; this time the music charmed me, conquered me, attracted me and spoke to me, both with and without words, and it might make me check out some new artists on Spotify, like Mereba who makes the tracks she features on become my favourite vocal pieces from this album.
Then there’s that humming, that nuanced and almost elegiac mix of gospel, inspirational and heroic that is most poignant in “Second chances” and it simply gets to me, I believe it, it sounds real, human, and the combination of voice and subtle cello motifs is honey to my ears and, once again, hits a big nostalgia spot with me. “Best shot” sounds like an honest and relatable story from a neighbourhood that just presents normal life, day to day life, with struggles and doubts and successes. There are also jazzy cues like “Rise”, just as inspirational as the humming ones and I will say it again, there is not nearly enough sax in today’s film and TV music and it should be.
“Best shot” is much more than a film score, is a journey through a rarely explored world of R&B and lyrics and instrumental emotion. The music is honest, moody, nuanced and simply smooth. Definitely a revelation for me, one of the best surprises of 2018 so far. Roahn Hylton and Jacob Yoffee, thank you.
Cue rating: 85 / 100
Success Story (feat. Scotty Grand)
Loss (feat. Gary Thomas)
Leave This Town (feat. Mereba)
Rise (feat. Russell Kirk)
Band of Brothers (feat. Scotty Grand)
Gimme Some (feat. Mereba)
We All We Need (feat. Scotty Grand)