Black Panther: The Album

Kendrick Lamar

Aftermath / Interscope / Top Dawg, 2018

http://www.kendricklamar.com

REVIEW BY: Daniel Camp

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 10/18/2018

Black Panther changed everything. For Hollywood executives, the superhero film proved once and for all after the embarrassment of #OscarsSoWhite that representation not only matters, but also sells. For our cinematic overlords at Marvel Studios, the movie’s success offered reassurance about the future of its cinematic universe post-Infinity War. And most importantly, for viewers, Black Panther offered something rarely seen in American cineplexes: something new. From the Afrofuturism of Wakanda to the unapologetic theme of black empowerment to the overwhelmingly black cast, few mainstream moviegoers could claim they’d ever seen anything like this onscreen, much less from a big-budget superhero movie.

For a movie this big, this important, and this black, Hans Zimmer wasn’t going to cut it for the soundtrack. So director Ryan Coogler swung for the fences and landed Kendrick Lamar to match the themes and style of the movie with his own brand of sonic swagger. The result is a record that sounds more like a Kendrick Lamar album (albeit one with a lot of guest stars) than a traditional soundtrack, one that can’t quite compare to Lamar’s previous work but shines as a musical companion to the movie.

Though he’s featured on every track in some capacity, this album is best described as ‘curated by Kendrick Lamar’ rather than performed by him. After opening the album with his trademark rapid-fire rapping on “Black Panther,” a song which musically would have fit in just fine on my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 DAMN. or good kid, m.A.A.d. city, Lamar’s primary contribution to the album is with a pen and in the booth, where his lyrics are given voice by a talented, diverse cast of hip hop and R&B stars.

The biggest names, strangely, wind up with the least interesting material. “All The Stars,” which has Lamar rapping the verses and SZA singing the chorus, makes for a groovy dance number and is the album’s biggest hit on radio, but doesn’t take any risks musically or lyrically. The same goes for “Pray For Me,” which features the Weeknd and sounds more like a bonus track from Starboy than a piece of this album. The radio-friendly nature of these tracks probably made the corporate bosses at Disney happy, but they leave the listener wishing for more.

That’s not to say that Kendrick’s famous friends bring the album down. When frequent collaborator Jay Rock takes a verse on “King’s Dead,” his rapping manages to outshine Lamar’s own verse, and Future comes close to doing the same when the mic is passed to him. And on “The Ways,” Khalid’s silky vocals will have you bobbing your head to the reggae-inspired beat.

However, the album’s real energy comes from the people you probably haven’t heard of. In a fitting nod to the African setting of Black Panther, Lamar brought in a series of artists from South Africa to provide some authenticity and diversity, and he didn’t settle for second-best. In “Opps,” featured during the movie’s car chase scene, South African Yugen Blakrok steals the show from the more familiar Vince Staples, rapping with the kind of speed and precision that has made Kendrick Lamar a household name in this country. In “Seasons,” Africa takes center stage when Sjava sings his entire verse in Zulu, a risky move for a mainstream album that nevertheless fits right in given the Afrocentric beats, themes, and music that propel the album forward. And throughout the album, especially its second half, the rhythms and music sound like echoes from the continent, infused with Compton swagger.

Black Panther: The Album winds up doing a little bit of everything. It ties into the movie’s themes and ideas, it embraces a diversity of musical styles, it highlights both African and African-American stories, and it offers Kendrick Lamar another vehicle to talk to his country about what it means to be black in America. Like the movie it pairs with, the album is both ambitious and commercial, welcomed by critics and fanboys alike without being completely at home with either. It isn’t perfect, but it’s different, and the differences are what make it soar.

Rating: B

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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© 2018 Daniel Camp and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Aftermath / Interscope / Top Dawg, and is used for informational purposes only.