Kendrick Lamar has blessed us once again with an album. Black Panther, The Album was inspired by Marvel’s latest cinematic creation, “Black Panther.” Just as the creative forces of the film are black artists, so are the ones driving the album, featuring rappers and R&B singers like Jorja Smith, 2 Chainz, Juicy J, and SZA. Black Panther, The Album, curated by and starring Kendrick Lamar, stands alone as a piece of art, even without its ties to the movie.
As Director Ryan Coogler stated in an NPR interview, Lamar was initially supposed to create only one song for the film, until he saw footage. He then fell in love with the story and collaborated with a slew of artists to create an album inspired by T’Challa’s honest and exhausting rise to the throne as portrayed in “Black Panther.”
Thematic elements tie the album together, but it shifts tonally throughout, creating a far less cohesive project than Lamar’s solo releases. While good kid, m.A.A.d city told the story of his youth and To Pimp a Butterfly commented on the nature of the black community in America, Black Panther, The Album is a fusion of Lamar’s different styles. This album serves as the embodiment of the characters T’Challa and Killmonger.
T’Challa, the Black Panther, and the villain Killmonger, are referenced throughout, allowing Kendrick to embody both sides of the conflict. He creates moments of love and tenderness, shining through the fiery assertions of power from the two warriors. Lamar’s different vocal complexions, ranging from his “Numb” to “Rage” as Genius News described, appear on the album.
This is most noticeable on the album’s first track, “Black Panther.” This dynamic track sets the album’s tone, with its linkage of the filmic narrative to King Kendrick’s own life.
Black pride and struggle arise as themes throughout the album, embodied by Yhung T.O. on “Paramedic!” when he raps, “they ain’t wanna see me win, ‘cause I’m black, so I pulled up in the all black Benz in the back.”
Kendrick pulled artists from his label, TDE (Top Dawg Entertainment) and from other sources as well. As reported by Al Newstead on abc.net.au, Lamar contacted Anderson Paak while he was working on his album in South Africa to record “Bloody Waters.” Paak’s smooth vocals pair well with James Blake, and Ab-Soul releases some of the best work he has put out in the recent past.
While he does not have a full feature on every track, Kendrick sprinkles his vocals on hooks and background vocals throughout the album. Hard hitters like Vince Staples, ScHoolboy Q, and SOB dish out swift verses on “Opps,” “ X,” and “Paramedic!,” but the energetic anthem, “King’s Dead,” takes the cake for the hardest song on the album.
The single features fellow TDE member, Jay Rock, whose impeccable verse overshadows Future’s which comes later on the track. Kendrick sets the pace by flaunting his cash flow and talent, casually stating, “I made five hundred thou’, and then I freaked it.” Future takes a page out of Kendrick’s stockpile of voices, imitating the King’s verse on Travis Scott’s “Goosebumps.” He crones a hackneyed mixture of well-known lyrics, but thankfully Jay Rock and Kendrick quickly relieve us from his high-pitched squealing.
African instruments heavily influence the sound of the album and create unification found throughout most of the tracks. Most of the beats are percussion-heavy, a characteristic of both African music and rap.
The album exhibits a contemporary sound infused with unfamiliar instruments and even lyrical styles. Svaja and Babes Wadumo, who are South African artists, both feature on the album, with Svaja incorporating Zulu lyrics into his verse on “Seasons.”
This masterful work of collaboration, headed by the dextrous Kendrick Lamar, deserves a thorough listen. Its dynamism allows any listener to find a track they identify with, whether they are searching for a song to drive too fast to or one that allows them to reminisce on past love. Above all, it captures the energy of the story of T’Challa, Killmonger, and the fantastic nation of Wakanda.