Last week, the good folks at Top Dawg Entertainment pressed the button & released to the world the soundtrack of the blackity black superhero movie, Marvel’s Black Panther. Expectations were set on a high as the curator of the soundtrack is Kendrick Lamar.
At first, he was featured on a few songs but after watching most of the movie, he was convinced to do the whole album himself with help of some of his US, UK and SA connects. Follow this track-by-track review to find out if the vision in Kendrick’s mind was executed properly.
Black Panther – Kendrick Lamar
The album starts with some somber broken piano chords. K-Dot then busts into a spoken word frenzy that sounds like a list of things you had to write down in detention. Man is on that “heavy is the head that holds the crown” vibe comparing himself to King T’Challa. A powerful way to start off things.
All the Stars – Kendrick Lamar & SZA
The first single of the album & the pop-ish vibes are likely why it was selected. It’s got SZA who is on her element and Kendrick gives a good verse, but it does not connect fully. Maybe the expectation of a Kendrick & SZA collab was too high. However, it does not sound corny, which I can appreciate.
X – Saudi, Schoolboy Q & 2 Chainz
“Are you on 10 yet?”, Kendrick is that voice in your head telling you to turn-up (who probably won’t be there when you deal with the morning after) The first SA rep, Saudi is on course & he gives a solid hazy verse. Schoolboy Q floats on the beat like Aladdin on his magic carpet. Then the beat gets flipped upside down for Malume 2 Chainz to close out what was quite an enjoyable track.
The Ways – Khalid & Swae Lee
I like the airy melody, one could close their eyes & imagine themselves floating in a seaside resort; the crash of the waves hitting the shore, seagulls cawing, people screaming in pain due to sunburn etc. Khalid sounds convincing trying to find out the ways of his Powergirl. Swae Lee is also in the cut; he’s still sipping the same juice he had when making Unforgettable This track was made for the radio.
Opps – Vince Staples & Yugen Blakrok
The beat sounds like the Decepticons performing military drills. No snares so this one, so it’s time to break yo neck (Shout out, Busta). While Kendrick and Vince produce quite stellar contributions to the song, Yugen Blakrok had the best verse on this song. This is not up to debate. A very technical verse with lots of futuristic imagery. 2 of 2 SA rappers killed it so far, this is promising.
I Am – Jorja Smith
Judging by the musical themes so far, we are now taking an off-ramp to the narrative of Killmonger, the nemesis of Black Panther. The mood has gotten a bit dark and tense. The grungy guitars are the first clue. Jorja Smith’s haunting vocals are the next clue, with her singing that “sometimes we ain’t meant to be free”. Kendrick sneaks in the tail end of the song & is backed by some nice violins.
Paramedic! – SOB X RBE
Two words: That bass. This passed the Whip Test upon first listen. Paramedic! reminds you of the hyphy era. It made me want to grow dreads & ghost ride the whip. This doesn’t exactly follow the theme of the album but that may have been done on purpose; maybe SOB X RBE represent the shooters for Killmonger. This would fit well in any West Coast rap album.
Bloody Waters – Anderson Paak, Ab Soul & James Blake
Another no snare beat, the aim was clearly to not make the album sound too much like a hip hop album, musically speaking. Ab Soul followed the script of Wakanda universe & laced a verse that T’Challa himself would approve. Anderson Paak has never dropped wack vocals & something in the water tells me that the record is still not broken. James Blake is at the tail end with those spacey vocals crying for an escape.
King’s Dead – Kendrick Lamar, Jay Rock, Future & James Blake
To be honest, the production of the 1st half of the song is not that memorable. Jay Rock floats on it regardless, because “he gotta go get it”. Future hits high notes I didn’t know could be reached. James Blake give a small intermission then…RED LIGHT, GREEN LIGHT, RED LIGHT, GREEN LIGHT! The beat transforms into a LWB bulldozer that grew a mind of its own & destroys everything in its path. Kendrick blacked out here like he drank 3 litres of box wine & ends it all with “All Hail King Killmonger”.
A much needed “water break” after the Kendrick’s verse on King’s Dead gave us a young workout. Some lush vocals from Zacari backed by a thumping kick & some sparse keys with get screwed up towards the end.
Redemption – Zacari & Babes Wodumo
Finally, a song that we can dance to. Quite an uplifiting melody too. Oh My Word, Oh My Gosh – Babes Wodumo has now enters the spot and swaggers her way through her bars like she does with a vosho. Zacari is the star here as his vocals flow with the high tempo beats in a way that you can’t help but move something.
Seasons – Sjava, Mozzy & Reason
This is, without any doubt, my favourite cut off this album. Sjava really set the tone for this woozy, laid-back production. I felt it when he said that in the streets down South, you’re old when you turn 35 years. Mozzy did the good things with his drawling convo-rap flow about his streets. Reason rounds things up addressing on the inequalities faced Stateside with a lot of hunger & pain in his voice.
Big Shot – Kendrick Lamar & Travis Scott
The first collab between Kendrick & Travis since Goosebumps. Ululations are in the air, it must be a celebration. The beat does have a certain bounce and Kendrick is bobbing & weaving to it like its Fight Night. Travis swoops in the Autotune fills the air and he proceeds to float like the bird he has for his concerts.
Pray For Me – The Weeknd & Kendrick Lamar
At first listen, this sounds like it could fit in the Starboy album of The Weeknd, who asks “Who will pray for me?” Kendrick is now speaking as T’Challa who is ready to go into war mode. I have a feeling this song will play at a big dramatic scene of the movie.
Seeing that Wakanda is a fictional African country, there would have to be some type of African influence in the album. The African elements that were spread all through the album were done in a way that was present, yet subtle and not too over-bearing.
Last week, I said that this album was a test of faith for our rappers and as you can tell, they all stepped up to the plate. They did not record with the aim to just be thankful for a feature – they went to own the song like it was theirs. They might get some residual burn as a result of this placement.
All the people that contributed to this album should give themselves props – they gave us an album that could measure up to its hype. All that is left to do now is to got watch Black Panther at the cinemas this weekend & find out how the movie and album link together.