Thought-provoking and powerful
The eighteenth Marvel Studio’s film, Black Panther, was released February 16th to critical acclaim. It has the fifth-highest opening weekend of all time and set the record for the biggest debut by an African American director. The director, Ryan Coogler, asked Kendrick Lamar to produce the film’s accompanying album because he felt Lamar’s “artistic themes align with those we explore in the film.” Lamar is joined by Top Dawg Entertainment’s founder and CEO Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith to produce a powerful companion to the film.
The album starts with the titular track, “Black Panther.” The song is ominous with simple piano accompaniment jarred by sliding minor strings as Lamar raps about being king of the city, country and culture. He is joined by SZA to “talk about love” on the following song, “All The Stars.” SZA belts in her higher register on the chorus, over soaring strings and a catchy beat. Lamar leads “X” in with the pre-hook and chorus, “Are you on ten yet?,” over a trap beat. Saudi’s rap is drenched in autotune on verse one, ScHoolBoy Q lights up the song on verse two, then the beat goes slo-mo for 2 Chainz and Lamar’s final verse.
The vibe is chill as Khalid leads “The Ways.” Swae Lee is featured on the track and his tone is a nice contrast to Khalid’s, with some light autotune for a Rae Sremmurd likeness. Vince Staples and Yugen Blakrok create “Opps,” which has cool percussion and is held together by the chant, “You’re dead to me.” Save for SZA’s collaboration with Lamar on “All The Stars,” Jorja Smith is the only other female artist on the album. Her vocals on the R&B fused “I Am,” are full and smooth, like honey drizzled over a mid-tempo beat and subtle electric guitar riffs: “And I know that we have asked for change / Don’t be scared to put the fears to shame.”
SOB X RBE follow Jorja Smith with “Paramedic!” The intro is all vocals, heavy with reverb and harmonizers to add fullness. Then, Lamar starts verse one and the beat kicks in and Slimmy B takes over. Lul G is savage on verse two, DaBoii comes in tough on verse three and Yhung T.O. slides in on verse four with the standout lyrics: “They ain’t wanna see me win ’cause I’m black / So I pulled up in that black Benz in the back / If you need someone to call I’m the man for the task / You ain’t standin’ for the cause, meet the man in the mask.” Next, Ab-Soul collaborates with Anderson .Paak and James Blake on “Bloody Waters.” It begins by transitioning Yhung T.O.’s final lines from “Paramedic!” (“Meet the man in the mask”) before Blake takes over singing lightly over the bright melody looped throughout. The beat comes in for .Paak’s soulful chorus, Ab-Soul holds down the rest of the verses with a clear, straight tone and Blake closes the song with an outro.
Next is Jay Rock’s contribution, “King’s Dead.” Lamar starts the song with the chorus, Jay Rock has a quick flow for verse one, then Future joins Lamar on the chorus and bridge with amusing rhymes like, “chitty chitty bang, murder everything.” Blake and Lamar throw in a slowed down interlude, and then verse two begins with a more frantic vibe where Lamar barely breathes for a quick-lipped second verse. Next, Zacari adds an interlude to his collaboration with Babes Wodumo. “Redemption” is a fun Afro-beat number that transitions well into “Seasons.” Sjava gives “Seasons” a reggae start that eventually mellows out for Mozzy’s verse, “They tryna tell us we all equal / We get no justice so it ain’t peaceful.” Reason’s verse carries the same sentiment as Mozzy’s: “Gimmie that, I carry Del Amo like a piggyback / I carry my city like guilt that ain’t go no forgiveness / No way out, shit we locked in the system / Catch a case and they not gon’ forgive ya / White skin, you be out before Christmas.”
A light woodwind loop swirls over a trap beat on “Big Shot.” Lamar works with Travis Scott to create a total banger, with catchy instrumentals and the lyrics every one will cling to in the club: “Emotional, ‘motional, ‘motional, ‘motional / Why you emotional? /Ah, bitch, you emotional, yeah.” The Weeknd closes the album with the most recognizable song from the movie, “Pray For Me,” which is featured in the Black Panther trailer. The melody loop-drops throughout almost seem out of place against The Weeknd’s sweet tenor, but as Lamar weaves in and out of the song on verses, the production comes together for a great finale.
Any of these songs could easily exist outside the framework of the Black Panther film, and that’s what makes this album such an incredible success. Black Panther: The Album is thought-provoking, powerful and best of all, a fun listen.