Over the past decade, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has been dominating the superhero movie scene. They’ve launched heroes like Iron Man and Captain America into the forefront of people’s minds, and they’ve made billions of dollars doing it. On February 16th, “Black Panther” — the first black superhero movie of its scale and grandeur — hits theaters across the country. To complement this major moment in the entertainment industry, Top Dawg Entertainment (TDE) — the independent west-coast music label home to some of hip-hop’s best acts — with signee Kendrick Lamar, curated an original soundtrack filled with music from and inspired by the movie. Black Panther The Album Music From And Inspired By is the final result, and a whirlwind of musical styles.
The only common thread through the album is Kendrick himself — a verse here and there, ad libs, bridges, choruses — his fingerprints are all over the record. Yet, he isn’t always the star. With added contributions from his TDE label-mates ScHoolboy Q, Jay Rock, Ab-Soul and SZA, the soundtrack evolves into more of TDE’s than Kendrick’s.
The features don’t stop with just TDE either. Vince Staples, 2 Chainz and Future are just a few of the hugely recognizable names making cameos. Even then, Black Panther The Album has guest spots from incredible artists from across the states and South Africa.
Given that it’s a soundtrack for a Marvel (Disney) film, it’s no surprise that a few songs are bland cross-over hits engineered in factories made for profit maximization. “Pray For Me,” the duet by Kendrick and The Weeknd, keeps The Weeknd’s tacky soundtrack song streak alive. “Big Shot” featuring Travis Scott is uninspiring, but grows catchier after each listen.
Aside from a handful of watered-down tracks, Black Panther The Album is a wonderful medley of ravenous tracks and slow jams.
Kendrick kicks off the album with his only solo offering, “Black Panther.” He takes on the identity of King T’Challa — the Black Panther himself in a journey through the king’s newfound responsibilities. Kendrick’s energy is relentless — that of someone who has everything to prove and everything to lose.
The Saudi, ScHoolboy Q and 2 Chainz-assisted track “X” is a clear standout with bloodthirsty verses from everyone on the record. Additionally, it’s the start of a mind-boggling seven-song run that finishes with an equally stunning song, “King’s Dead.”
Most soundtracks are entirely phoned-in — commercial cash grabs that ride on the backs of sub-par movies. Black Panther The Album is an exception to that rule. Creativity oozes out of (nearly) every track. A lot of these tracks have the potential to be around for a long time, popping up at every function you find yourself at: “Paramedic!” for the parties, “The Ways” for the sunny walks to class, “I Am” for the dark, solitary nights.
Black Panther The Album could mark a notable shift in commercial artistic expression. It has a coherent vision that knows what does and doesn’t need to be said. Expected to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard charts, Black Panther The Album proves that artistic integrity — and the projects that come as a result — have an audience in the commercial world.