Black Panther: The Album
Review by Alex Kramer
"Hit the lights, kill the noise, and listen up."
Black Panther: the Album, music from and inspired by the upcoming film, is here. With writing credit on 14 tracks, featured on 5, this is Kendrick Lamar’s child even with the surplus of artistic influence radiating from talent to rival the film itself. Only a few short months after DAMN., this is opulent. The Album is not your atypical tracklist of music featured on and by. It is a musical score – in both senses of the word. Stand-alone or in the movie, it should hold up.
The album features majority black artists (and thank Wakanda for that) including the likes of Jorja Smith, Khalid, 2 Chainz, Zacari, Travis Scott, and more. This is a celebration of black power – insular but which should be treated regally, with the utmost respect.
This work is diverse, every track a distinctive sound. Given the players orchestrating, it would be a miscalculation sans the mélange. The queens and kings bring their own: the star-struck quality SZA imbues on the listener, the soft surrealism of the OG starboy (The Weeknd), and, more than anything, the power of Kendrick Lamar.
When asked “Are you a king?... All hail the king,” on the title track “Black Panther”, it is unclear who rules: T’Challa or Kendrick? Over the kingly piano, there is a questioning of authority by declaring the artists’ own bragging rights.
“All the Stars”, the album’s current hit, is a stunner, as expected from the duo, augmented by SZA’s signature crooning. Kendrick’s consistency is his knack for the strange and strangely truthful – a vanguard of the genre where he pulls roots up and replants a new breed. Nothing virgin is made without history. Even Lauryn Hill’s influence can be heard on certain tracks like “Opps” and “I Am.” Tracks pull from the on-the-rise British rap and African sampling. A deviation from Lamar’s concept-heavy studio albums, instead of restitution and list of wrongdoings against, this is a love letter to his people.
Lamar’s words guide the album into a cohesive work of art that would otherwise be scattered.
The seamless transitions heard could simply be the passion and honest talent slowly dripping like honey off the record.
These are black artists coming back to spite the Grammy’s for its slights. 2018 was a year for plenty of nominations but ultimately safe picks, nothing political or “too black” outside of the the Urban, R&B, or Rap categories. They refused to get political. But the personal (and if music isn’t personal, what is?) is political, it always has. The Academy got it wrong, ignoring the tone of our country. #OscarsSoWhite and the Grammy’s, it turns out, whiter.
This music speaks: lyric heavy and propelling towards what’s next. If no socially conscious work made until now will make the masses listen to black experience, maybe the soundtrack to a feature film about the first black superhero (conceived of by a Manhattanite white guy) will legitimize. We can only hope.
Though it begs the question is this music for themselves or for the film, I have a hard time caring. Wakanda, in the heart of northern Africa, is not real. But Black Panther: the Album is.