Kendrick Lamar, ‘Black Panther the Album’ | Album Review
Kendrick Lamar assembles an intriguing soundtrack for the critically-acclaimed film ‘Black Panther’ with ‘Black Panther the Album Music from and Inspired.’
Black Panther (the film) is the talk of the town. It’s accompanying soundtrack, Black Panther the Album Music from and Inspired By ranked among the most anticipated albums arriving in February 2018. Helmed by Kendrick Lamar, The Weeknd, and SZA (mostly Lamar), it’s no surprise music enthusiasts have been licking their chops. Is Black Panther the Album worthy of the hype? Yes, for the most part.
“All the Stars”
“King of my city, king of my country, king of my homeland.” Kendrick Lamar kicks things off alluringly with “Black Panther,” which features one lengthy verse. All about ‘king vision,’ Lamar raps from the perspective of T’Challa (Black Panther). As always, Lamar’s flow is agile, while his rhymes are compelling. The production work is enigmatic throughout, whether K-Dot is rapping over calmer piano, or it embodies a more twisted, unsettling nature.
“This may be the night that my dreams might let me know / All the stars are closer, all the stars are closer, all the stars are closer.” Kendrick Lamar returns for stellar promo single “All the Stars”, which also features SZA. “All the Stars” has more of a pop, electro-driven urban sound. Not necessarily what’s normally expected from either musician, ultimately, it works out magnificently. Following the stellar chorus by SZA, K-Dot delivers his rhymes without a hitch. SZA goes on to shine on her own verse.
Continuing to be central to Black Panther, Kendrick Lamar drops the catchy, unapologetic hook on “X.” After setting the tone and reappearing between verses, Saudi, ScHoolBoy Q, and 2 Chainz drop their own verses. Each rapper drops a couple memorable bars, including Q’s gem, “N*gga, December been good to me / Not even Kendrick can humble me.” Khalid and Swae Lee combine forces on the smooth “The Ways.” Distinct vocals by both artists, plus chill, soulful production are the chief selling points.
Kendrick Lamar played a lesser role on “The Ways.” He reappears front and center on the edgier “Opps,” featuring Vince Staples and Yugen Blakrok. K-Dot drops the aggressive first verse, followed by its aggressive equal on the hook. “Opps on the radar (you’re dead to me) / How you wanna play ball? (you’re dead to me).” Staples speaks on black male issues on the second verse, while Yugen Blakrok makes an incredible, if random reference to a Millie Jackson album (“When I flex them tendons like rubber trees / Young Millie Jackson ‘Back to the Shit’”).
Up-and-comer Jorja Smith sounds incredibly expressive on the slow, but intriguing “I Am.” The production by Sounwave and Kendrick Lamar is excellent. Still, the nuances, vocal cracks, and overall vocal tone of Smith is the crowning achievement. Sounwave remains aboard the boards on the SOB x RBE banger “Paramedic!,” alongside CuBeatz and DJ Dahi. Kendrick Lamar handles the hook, as well as some backing vocals throughout. Otherwise, with the exception of a brief appearance by Zacari, there are four verses courtesy of Slimmy B, Lul G, DaBoii, and Yhung T.O.
“Paramedic!” is a strong moment for Black Panther, but the Ab-Soul feature “Bloody Waters” is even stronger. Ab-Soul is assisted by James Blake (intro and outro) and Anderson. Paak, who delivers the chorus. Ab-Soul gets to work on a post-chorus, before dropping two ripe verses over some of the album’s most minimal, but unique production work (Sounwav/Kendrick Lamar). What’s incredibly cool about “Bloody Waters” is how it segues to arguably the soundtrack’s best cut, “King’s Dead.”
“Miss me with that bullshit / You ain’t really wild, you a tourist.” From the start of “King’s Dead”, the beat is trunk-rattling. Kendrick Lamar drops a ferocious hook. Jay Rock gets ‘first blood’ with the first verse, matching the toughness of the backdrop. Future follows, with a variation on the hook, assisted by Kendrick Lamar. The bridge, mostly performed by Future, is bizarre, including the famous lyric, “Slob on [me] knob.” The original, K-Dot hook follows, before a production switch-up. James Blake initiates the second part of the song, in his enigmatic, electronic excellence. Lamar then proceeds to go H.A.M. on the second verse of the song. The beat and overall sound remains hard-hitting.
“Red light, green light, red light, green light… / Fast cars, fast money, fast life, fast broads / Egotistic, goin’ ballistic, why God?”
“Redemption Interlude” welcomes back Zacari in a larger role. 23-year old South African singer Babes Wodumo joins him on the incredibly groovy, sexy “Redemption.” Mozzy, Sjava (a South African artist), and Reason ‘do work’ on the expressive, soulful follow up, “Seasons.” Sjava fittingly kicks things off, embracing the African spirit and sound. Mozzy and Reason contrast with a more familiar, Americanized sound – at least if you’re from the America that is. Listeners are blessed (or cursed) with the contemporary sounds of “Big Shot” which embraces the flute, which has found a home in hip-hop. After stepping back, Kendrick Lamar is back in a large role, alongside Travis Scott.
“Pray for Me”
“Pray for Me” commences with distorted synths. Soon after, anchoring drum programming enters, adding stability. The Weeknd delivers clear, commanding vocals, flaunting his radiant tone. Following a strong first verse, he continues serving up top-rate vocals on the chorus. “Pray for Me” grows even more exciting with the entrance of Kendrick Lamar on the second verse. As always, K-Dot is on-point dropping agile rhymes that are perfectly suited for the production. Later, the bridge provides a slight contrast to the verses and chorus. Even so, it’s clear that it was derived from the rest of the song. Ultimately, “Pray for Me” concludes Black Panther soundly.
Some soundtracks struggle to be anything more than a soundtrack. Initially listening, this felt like it was a possibility for Black Panther the Album Music from and Inspired By. Ultimately, that’s not the case. Yes, Blank Panther the Album suits its purpose as a soundtrack, but it also has replay quality beyond supporting the film. Easily the teaser tracks “All the Stars,” “King’s Dead,” and “Pray for Me” stand tall on their own outside the confines of the album.
Gems: “All the Stars,” “Opps,” “Paramedic!,” “Bloody Waters,” “King’s Dead,” “Seasons” & “Pray for Me”