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Men in Black The Album (1997) – Various Artists – Rookie Debut of Beyoncé Knowles

Imagine, if you will, that you have been tasked with selecting the hottest hip hop artists for an album. It’s 1997, and you need thirteen artists to round out a “soundtrack” for a movie that is hoping to become the tentpole hit of the summer, starring an actor/rapper on the cusp of superstardom.  You cannot screw this up.

Luckily for you, this “soundtrack” is not really a soundtrack at all.  The songs you select need not be featured in, or even associated with, the movie in any way.  You’ve already got the lead actor, Will Smith, providing a hit single.  But you need more.  You need album sales. You need buzz. 

Snoop Doggy Dogg? Check. A Tribe Called Quest? Absolutely. Add in The Roots, De La Soul, Ginuwine and Nas and you have an all-star lineup.  This album is going to be a hit. Just round it out with some up and coming talent and you’ve got a number one album.

One problem.  You aren’t Randy Jackson. 

Randy Jackson shot to national fame in 2002 as the “rational” judge on American Idol. While Paula Abdul played the fawning optimist, and Simon Cowell the cynical pessimist, Jackson did the real work.  His honest and educated takes on singers typically acted as the tie-breaker, and viewers came to realize that, of the three, his evaluations were the most genuine and dependable.  It wasn’t an act.  Jackson, although not a household name at the time, had already made his name in the music world, first as a musician, then as a talent evaluator and producer for Columbia Records and MCA.

“Killing Time” is a soulful, emotional ballad sung over a combination of acoustic guitar and string orchestration, and the lead singer on the track sings with the skill and confidence of a legend.

As told in J. Randy Taraborelli’s book, Becoming Beyoncé: The Untold Story, Jackson was looking for acts to fill out the 1997 MIB album.  In addition to a gaggle of superstars, the album was already going to feature a relatively unknown 16-year-old artist named Alicia Keyes, whose only previous recording was a single song, “The Little Drummer Girl”, on a 1996 Christmas album.

Then Jackson heard a track by a group called Destiny’s Child, and he was quick to recognize the lead’s talent.  The song, “Killing Time”, is a soulful, emotional ballad sung over a combination of acoustic guitar and string orchestration, and the lead singer on the track sings with the skill and confidence of a legend.

When I was 15-years-old, I was a prepubescent, 88-pound pencil-neck, too shy to talk to girls, too embarrassed to raise his hand to speak.  When Beyoncé was 15, she was a polished star whose talent was inarguable and whose future was limitless.  “Killing Time” is the first officially released recording of Destiny’s Child, but Beyoncé does the heavy lifting throughout.  A masterpiece of vocal power.  Randy Jackson did Beyoncé and Destiny’s Child a “favor” that day; he offered to put them on Men in Black – The Album, an album that reached #1 on the Billboard charts. Beyoncé, one of the greatest recording artists in history, did us all a favor by agreeing.

Beyoncé has sold nearly 200 million albums and singles, both as a member of Destiny’s Child and as a solo artist.  Each effort she churns out seems more polished, more nuanced, and more exceptional.  But it all started on the soundtrack to a pop movie and an opportunity afforded by one of America’s most recognizable and skilled talent evaluators.  Men in Black – The Album (1997) is our earliest window into the career of an American idol.

VINYL SPECIFICS:

The album cover features actors Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith, in the iconic black suits and sunglasses from the movie series.  Photos from the film accompany the track listing on the back. 

Original Release Year: 

1997- USA (1), Europe (1)

Catalog Number and Label:

US Release – Columbia – C 68536, C 68537, C2 68189

*Most common variant:

US Release

*Rarest Variant:

UK Release

Highest confirmed sale price**: 

2/28/2021  – $67 – unsealed/used

*According to discogs.com “haves” at time of article publication

**According to popsike.com and discogs.com sales history at time of publication

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