Kendrick Lamar Is Still The King On 'Black Panther: The Album'
    • FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 09, 2018

    • Posted by: Shane Croghan

    The Kendrick Lamar-curated soundtrack for Black Panther has finally arrived, one week ahead of the movie's theatrical release. The film, and the soundtrack, have been symbiotically building hype for one another over the past few months and, as always, Kendrick has delivered on his part of the bargain. Going by the near-perfect score on Rotten Tomatoes, the movie is set to live up to the hype as well.

    The cast of contributors for this album is a star-studded testament to Kendrick's pull as an artist, and the far-reaching influence of Top Dawg Entertainment in the music industry right now. The Weeknd, SZA, Vince Staples, Travis Scott, James Blake… The list of huge acts appearing on the soundtrack goes on and on. In addition to some of the bigger names, Black Panther also features appearances from a number of lesser-known artists like South Africa's Sjava and Babes Wudomo, underlining Lamar's desire to feature African artists as we arrive at a high-point for black representation in cinema.

    Despite such a diverse list of contributors, Kendrick has managed to create a cohesive album that flows better than any movie soundtrack has the right to. He could have phoned it in and churned out a perfectly satisfactory set of pop-leaning hip-hop tracks, but it's clear that Lamar has no intention of abandoning his more experimental tendencies for any project, no matter what the context is. Some of the singles we heard from Black Panther, like "All Of The Stars" with SZA or "Pray For Me" with The Weeknd, certainly tended toward the poppier side of things, but now that the full album is available it's apparent that those songs were chosen for release as they're the two most commercially viable efforts on the record.


    Elsewhere, we see Kendrick continuing to pursue the more off-kilter endeavors that have established him as one of the defining artists of his generation. Right from the outset, "Black Panther" is something of a jarring introduction for those expecting standard soundtrack fare. The striking opener sees Kendrick in To Pimp A Butterfly form, sonically jazzy with an effervescent flow, and it sets the tone for the more idiosyncratic moments to come. Something that's become a hallmark of Lamar's music is his ability to effortlessly pull off dramatic tonal shifts mid-song and this is in full effect on "X", "King's Dead", and others. "Bloody Waters" with Anderson .Paak, James Blake and Ab-Soul is a fine example of how to weave disparate vocals around a single beat, complete with a little lyrical callback to "King Kunta".


    Kendrick is featured in some capacity on nearly every song, and it's clear that his steady hold on proceedings has gone a long way to maintaining a sense of unity throughout the project. Despite his strong presence throughout, Kendrick avoids any egotistical flourishes, instead he plays the part of selfless director, elevating the performances of his stars. SZA shows why she dominated 2017 with her voice guiding us on "All Of The Stars" and Khalid's breezy vocal delivery shines through as "The Ways" gives us a moment of respite. "Opps" is a standout track, with Kendrick flowing alongside Vince Staples and Yugen Blackrock on a song that would fit neatly on the track list of Staples' scintillating Big Fish Theory.

    There are a few songs in here, "Big Shot" with Travis Scott for example, that are pretty safe hip-hop tracks, but that's not to say that they're out of place, just somewhat underwhelming compared to the bolder endeavors to be found on Black Panther. When it comes to down to it, the true strength of this album is the establishment of a musical plane on which a potentially contrasting set of styles can not just coexist, but excel in each other's company.

    Black Panther isn't a bona fide classic Kendrick Lamar album like To Pimp a Butterfly or DAMN., not that anyone should've been expecting that, but it's another stellar addition to his discography and certainly one of the most striking movie soundtracks in recent memory.

    Black Panther will see its cinematic release next Friday, February 16th, and you'll find the full album below.

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