“Black Panther: The Album” — Three elements that make it more than a film score

It’s like a hip hop all-star game, and in this case, everyone steps up to the plate.


Kim Erlandsen, NRK P3

Kendrick Lamar performing. (Creative Commons/ Øyafestivalen)

Trevor Wilson, Contributor

After the release of the critically-acclaimed studio album “DAMN.,” Top Dawg Entertainment’s star player and head coach, Kendrick Lamar and CEO Anthony Tiffith, were tasked with curating and compiling a soundtrack for Marvel’s upcoming film “Black Panther.

While the film is not the first black superhero movie or blockbuster, “Black Panther” employs a great range of talented black actors, directors and producers on a whole new scale. Like the film, Lamar utilizes a variety of artists and incorporates them into the diverse, energetic and holistic soundtrack: “Black Panther: The Album.” Here are the three defining elements of the album that make it so great:

Kung Fu Kenny keeps it simple

Right off the bat listeners will notice this is a completely new sound for Kendrick Lamar. In previous projects, Lamar utilized West Coast influenced instrumentals that were heavy on jazz and synthesizers to accompany his raw, conscientious lyricism. We first saw this mainstream influence on “DAMN.” in which Lamar employed a new sound, drawing influence from trap music and other spinoffs of the hip-hop genre.

On “Black Panther: The Album,” listeners are greeted with a Kendrick Lamar that sounds his most mainstream to date. Songs like the single “All The Stars,” featuring Top Dawg affiliate SZA, embody an energetic pop sound. Other tracks such as “The Ways” featuring Khalid and Swae Lee and “I Am” with Jorja Smith employ this pop-like sound too. Infectious melodies and repetitive yet catchy drums make these songs pop. These are songs that clearly belong on a soundtrack. In their sound, they serve a specific purpose that sets a tone and conveys importance.

Yet, there are a plethora of tracks that touch on the trap sound that has taken over hip-hop. Straying from the pop, songs like “X” featuring ScHoolboy Q, 2 Chainz, and South African singer Saudi, embody this very sound. Accompanied by bouncy, snappy drum patterns and single-layered melodies, tracks like “X,” “Paramedic!” featuring SOB x RBE (Bay Area rap crew), and “King’s Dead” with Future and Jay Rock, make for a fun and enjoyable listen through these tracks.

Beautifully diverse

One of the defining aspects of this project was Lamar’s decision to bring in new sounds and artists to appeal to the film’s cultural and setting aspects. On “Black Panther: The Album,” Lamar compliments the diversity of the film with a mass array of artists, some of whom are from Africa themselves. The project itself jumps around in terms of sound. One minute you’ll be listening to an upbeat house anthem like “Opps” featuring Vince Staples and Yugen Blakrok, to a transition into a smooth R&B/Pop crossover like the track “I Am.”

What is most diverse is Lamar’s talent acquisitions. He employs a number of African artists like Sjava, Yugen Blakrok, Babes Wodumo and Saudi. Some of these artists even go as far to incorporate Zulu, the most widely spoken language in South Africa, into their verses, adding to the cultural diversity of this project. Additionally, Lamar brings in a number of American hip-hop stars as well. Artists like Swae Lee, Future, Khalid and Anderson .Paak are just a few of the American superstars on this album. “Black Panther: The Album” almost seems like the all-star game for hip-hop artists, and in this case, everyone steps up to the plate.

Another defining aspect is the album’s sound overall is quite diverse. While the album’s mainstream elements were mentioned earlier, this sound doesn’t get in the way of the overall diversity. One moment you’re listening to “The Ways” — a love song featuring Khalid and Swae Lee that brings smooth island vibes to the project. Immediately following is the track “Opps” with Vince Staples and Yugen Blakrok, a track that takes on an aggressive lead bass as its melody with some incredible bounce. The song discusses violence and power, totally shifting gears from the previous song. While majorly diverse, the project remains cohesive. Its sound incorporates many aspects of Afrobeat, hip-hop, R&B and pop without losing its focus.

Thematic, powerful and thought-provoking

The main element separating this project from an average soundtrack is its depth. Often, soundtracks find themselves bogged down in instrumentals without much substance in the lyricism. “Black Panther: The Album does not make this mistake, and brings about important themes to be expressed in the film such as power, loyalty, love and struggle. These themes are all introduced in the soundtrack without the lyrics losing any meaning. Some tracks even break the focus of the soundtrack to comment on political issues that face our world today.

On the introduction track “Black Panther,” Lamar begins to speak from the perspective of T’Challa when he raps, “King of my city, king of my country, king of my homeland.” This line is clearly attributed to the perspective of T’Challa, but Lamar shifts perspectives when he says, “King of the shooters, looters, boosters and ghettos poppin.’” Often calling himself “King Kendrick,” he includes some of his own commentary and perspective into the song.

Despite its low-key, smooth reggae-like vibe, the track “Seasons,” featuring Mozzy, Sjava and Reason, is politically charged. The song goes into great detail about the issues facing the black community in America and abroad. Each verse is a collection of stories engaging the listener into political and social commentary. One standout line in this track comes from Reason’s verse, when he rattles off the bar, “Catch a case and they not gon’ forgive ya/White skin, you be out before Christmas.” A powerful line that comments on the social issues within America rather than focusing on the film’s content. It is songs and lines like this that make the project unique in its own right.

VERDICT: 8.5/10

In terms of sound, this is the most mainstream project Lamar has worked on to date. He features on most of the tracks and explores new avenues with his sound. Given that this is a soundtrack, songs like “All The Stars” and “The Ways” fall short in substance, but many of the hip-hop and trap tracks give the listeners a lot to digest. Ultimately, this album thrives off its diversity and sound. By incorporating artists from America to South Africa, Lamar curates a phenomenal soundtrack that touches on the cultural and thematic elements to be seen in the film while also providing songs that absolutely slap.

Standout Songs:

  1. “Paramedic!” (Ft. SOB x RBE)
  2. “Seasons” (Ft. Mozzy, Sjava & Reason)
  3. “Opps” (Ft. Vince Staples & Yungen Blakrok)
  4. “Bloody Waters” (Ft. Anderson .Paak, Ab-Soul & James Blake)
  5. “X” (Ft. ScHoolboy Q, 2 Chainz & Saudi)

Email Trevor at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @TrevorWilsonOG.

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