Welcome to the new standard for movie soundtracks. A week before “Black Panther” takes movie theaters by storm, Kendrick Lamar and record label Top Dawg Entertainment have released the much anticipated “Black Panther The Album Music From And Inspired By.” This isn’t your average movie soundtrack — it’s a full-fledged album and should be treated as such.
To craft the “Black Panther” album, Lamar brought together some of the best in hip-hop and R&B, such as SZA, Vince Staple and Travis Scott, plus newcomers such as SOB X RBE and Yugen Blakrok. While it was great to see some industry heavyweights come together for this album, I was also impressed by the new artists, particularly Yugen Blakrok whose verse in “Opps” blew me away.
Having this many artists on one album does detract from its overall flow, but Lamar assists in connecting each song by penning a verse on almost every one — even though he’s only credited in five. This move helps to lyrically string together each song on the album, even though, they sound nothing alike.
While a Marvel novice like myself could listen to this album simply for the great music, it’s undeniably brilliant how Lamar and Top Dawg incorporated the film into the record. Unlike most movie soundtracks, the themes of this film are weaved in rather subtly.
For example, the introductory song, “Black Panther,” can be blindly interpreted as a brilliant freestyle rap from Lamar. Upon closer examination, however, you realize Lamar is actually rapping from the perspective of the film’s main character, T’Challa. In the song, Lamar raps, “King of my city, king of my country, king of my homeland/king, king, king, king, I am T’Challa.”
References to King T’Challa are constant throughout the album, as Lamar and his collaborators consistently mention the title of King and the main character’s home country of Wakanda. For example, the song “Big Shot” begins with Lamar and Travis Scott rapping “Wakanda Welcome.”
The film’s main theme is most clearly recognized in the song “King’s Dead,” which focuses on T’Challa’s struggle to take control of his power following his father’s death. In this song, Lamar raps from the perspective of King Killmonger, the antagonist in the film who refuses to recognize T’Challa’s power. Lamar raps, “Fuck your morals, fuck your family, fuck your tribe, fuck your land, fuck your land/not the title y’all want me under/All hail King Killmonger.”
While the album itself contains several brilliant tracks, the true hit is “All the Stars.” The song, which focuses on the ideas of dreams and love, is a collaboration between Lamar and one of my favorite artists at the moment, SZA. While Lamar delivers a great verse on the song, SZA truly shines. It’s not just her most vocally powerful tune but also her most personal. She sings, “This may be the night that my dreams might let me know/All the stars approach you, all the stars approach you, all the stars approach you.” In these lyrics, she is singing about her dreams coming further into reach. The song feels like SZA’s tribute to the past year of her life after her debut album “Ctrl” turned her into a five-time Grammy nominee.
The “Black Panther” soundtrack should set a precedent for other blockbuster films. Through the album, it’s clear there are benefits to assigning one or two artists to take charge of a soundtrack. By putting Lamar and Top Dawg Entertainment at the heads of this project, the album took on more of a personal meaning and allowed them to create a body of work that is not just a supplement to the movie but rather an album that takes on a life of its own.