Black Panther: The Album | Various Artists
Roaring into a number 1 debut on the Billboard 200 chart, this Kendrick Lamar and TDE executive-produced album features music from and inspired by Marvel‘s motion picture Black Panther. Feeding off the popularity of the film, Lamar brings together some of the biggest names in R&B, Hip Hop and Soul. The influence of Lamar’s most recent LP, DAMN, is scattered throughout the project, from samples to production. The combination of numerous artists and the star power that many of them bring allows for a range of topics to be explored musically.
Lamar is featured on essentially every song, credited and uncredited, due to his executive role on the album. He opens it with the solo take “Black Panther,” in which the current King of Hip Hop details what makes up a king and what pressures fall under his reign. The song, a mixture of a lightly-backed piano melody and tribal-influenced percussion, is featured in the actual movie and makes mention of King T'challa (also known as Black Panther), protagonist of the film.
Moving from fictional characters to actual African artists with extraordinary talents we have the genre-blending, Lamar-produced track “Seasons” from South Africa’s Sjava, one of many international artists featured. Also joining him on the track are Reason and Mozzy, the album’s less recognizable artist depending what continent you’re on. Sjava handles the first verse in a reggae-like fashion which later morphs into a Hip Hop/ Afro mix that anyone can enjoy. Other South African artists on the album are Babes Wodumo, Yugen Blakrok, and Saudi.
The compilation’s fourth track, “The Ways,” is a Khalid and Swae Lee (of the duo Rae Sremmurd) serenade backed by additional Lamar vocals. Coming off a breakout 2017, Khalid’s voice fits perfectly on the BADBADNOTGOOD-produced song, creating a laidback radio hit. The production is slower paced, allowing Khalid to deliver his autotune-laced vocals without sacrificing clarity. The song’s second half is handled by Lee, who utilizes autotune in a similar fashion, creating one of the best songs on the entire project.
Unlike many other soundtracks and Disney subsidiaries, this album doesn’t stay too in line with the actual movie or its characters. Instead, Lamar uses vocal samplings from the movie as well as concepts relating to the film for his artists to incorporate. This unorthodox soundtrack format strikes lighting more than once, perhaps no better than on the hidden gem “Paramedic.” It begins with Lamar in a spacy voice saying, “I am Killmonger” (Black Panther’s main antagonist). This is followed by a brief verse by Zacari, whose voice provides harmonic peace before the production picks up again. Once the track reaches the 22-second mark there’s a shift in production to typical West-Coast Hip Hop, with the California group SOB X RBE handling most of the track vocally from then on.
Black Panther: The Album not only spawned hits but is also very well put together. Following his Grammy-winning DAMN, Lamar is back and better than ever. Continuing with similar sounds from previous work he helps shape one of the best compilations of music in recent memory.