Review: Black Panther: The Album
Kendrick Lamar steps into the Executive Producer seat and brings back the prominence of the soundtrack in the process.
Label: Top Dawg. Aftermath. Interscope
Executive Producers: Top Dawg. Kendrick Lamar. Dave Free
Producers: 30 Roc. Aaron Bow. BadBadNotGood. DJ Dahi. Frank Dukes. Cardo. Al Shux. Hykeem Carter. Doc Mckinney. Illmind. Cubeatz. Kurtis McKenzie. Rascal. Scribz Riley. Sounwave. • Ludwig Göransson. Matt Schaeffer. Mike Will Made It. Robin Hannibal. Teddy Walton. Twon Beatz
Featured Artist: Kendrick Lamar. SZA. Schoolboy Q. Ab-Soul. Jay Rock. 2 Chainz. Vince Staples. Saudi. Khalid. Swae Lee. Jorja Smith. SOB X RBE. The Weeknd. Anderson.Paak. Yugen Blakrok. James Blake. Future. Zacari. Babes Wodumo. Mozzy. Sjava. Reason. Travis Scott.
Highlights: All the Stars. King's Dead. Bloody Waters. The Ways Lowlights: Pray for Me Rating: 8.5/10
For a lot of people, the hype surrounded around Black Panther and what it means for Marvel fans, comic fans, and black people in general overshadowed everything else, including the thought of the soundtrack. For me especially, seeing an all black super hero cast become reality definitely occupied the space in my brain and a soundtrack was an after thought. This was of course until it was announced that Kendrick Lamar would be "curating" the soundtrack. Interest had risen, and it was an interesting thought exercise to wonder how Kendrick Lamar would bring his expertise into crafting a soundtrack for such a hyped movie. The fit made sense; Kendrick Lamar has authored one of the blackest albums of our time in To Pimp A Butterfly. What approach would he be taking with Black Panther: The Album?
The result was a cohesive project that is both accessible to a mainstream audience while having the depth needed to make for an interesting listen. The featured artist are expansive and all are used for what they are best at. 2 Chainz and Schoolboy Q are paired together again (they collaborated on Schoolboy Q's album: Oxymoron) with energetic production from Sounwave and Illmind. Anyone who are avid fans know thats what those two excel at. 2 Chainz specifically lights up his verse. SZA is added to possibly the most melodic record on the album with the lead single All of the Stars and her vocals carry the record to a different level while Kendrick Lamar centers the song. On Bloody Waters we get a vintage Ab-Soul (welcome back Ab-Soul we missed you) trading bars with Anderson.Paak. with outro vocals from James Blake. Damn near perfection. Shortly after a transition occurs from Bloody Waters to King's Dead with African instrumentation and chants; a highlight of the record. Jay Rock shines on King's Dead and Future delivers a very strange yet enjoyable verse (his high pitched delivery of "ladi dadi da" in the middle of the verse is hilarious) while Kendrick delivers my favorite chorus of the year thus far. Khalid and Swae Lee sound incredible together on Sounwave and BadBadNotGood's melodic production. Its a lot going on, but it never seems forced. The album does not have a cohesive message which its to its benefit.
Another benefit to the album are the less known artist that perform well. Kendrick Lamar made sure to add African artist like Yugen Blakrok, Babes Wodumo, Sjava all hailing from South Africa. Yugen Blakrok has arguably the best verse on Oops the industrial electro record featuring Vince Staples and Kendrick Lamar. That is the type of names that don't usually get outdone in that manner, but Yugen Blakrok leaves no doubt that she did not come to play. Elsewhere, SOB x RBE hailing from Vallejo, CA delivers the most aggressive record with Paramedic. Kendrick lays the chorus and the record is perfect representation of the current LA sound. Mozzy delivers the emotional depth he has come to be known for alongside Sjava and Reason on Seasons and Jorja Smith and Kendrick Lamar bring the neo soul feel to I am.
The shortcomings from Black Panther: The Album are minimal but exist none the less. The Weeknd and Kendrick Lamar are unfortunately 0 for 2 at this point. Pray for Me is a solid song but it feels like something left off the cutting room floor of Starboy because its just not that impressive. I for one would have like to see more of the movie's influence on the album. The only references we get to the movie is Kendrick Lamar adlibs about being Tchalla and Killmonger a clear reference to the similarities that exist amongst the two and most black men in modern society; however, you find yourself wanting more of that being that it would have been a great concept to delve into.
With all that being said, Black Panther: The Album is absolutely another feather in TDE's and Kendrick Lamar's cap. Kendrick Lamar has a hand in every single song, whether vocally, on the chorus, rapping, or simply with adlibs and background vocals. Kendrick Lamar has now shown ability beyond curating his own sound but an ability to curate a sound for others. His resume is entering an unparalleled space.