When it came to the soundtrack of the mega successful Marvel super-hero film, “Black Panther”, it honestly didn’t interest me at first. Upon seeing the track list, it looked like a Kendrick Lamar album with a movie soundtrack’s overlay. That’s not a knock on Kendrick Lamar, I like his solo albums. However, I do think that the masses have treated every post-2012 album he’s released like it’s the second coming of Christ. Even after seeing the film three consecutive times in the theatres, I remained dismissive of the soundtrack. It took a combination of family recommendations and hearing two of the soundtrack’s biggest singles in the gym for several weeks non-stop to compel me to cough up some money for a CD copy. While not a solo record, Kendrick executive produced it, he has production credits on it, and is featured on nearly every track. The music is original and is certainly inspired by the film, but the music’s glossy interpretation of the film has led me to conclude that the movie was better than the soundtrack. As far as the soundtrack goes, the music is better than the words.
The introductory title-track has Kendrick rapping from the main character’s (T’Challa, the titular Black Panther) viewpoint. Kendrick and Sounwave (Top Dog Entertainment’s in-house beatmaker), produced the majority of the album. The soundtrack has commercial appeal, and the Kendrick and SZA-helmed “All the Stars” represents this. An infectious single with a catchy chorus and stellar production, both of those factors sometimes make me forget that Kendrick had rapped verses on the track. “X” contains a minimalist beat and brings Kendrick together with 2 Chainz and Schoolboy Q. Like the film, this track attempts to bridge the gap between the African diaspora by including African rapper Saudi. At first, I thought the song was titled “X” because of the Wakandan symbol from the film, but the song’s frequent chanting of “on Ten” is what it actually symbolizes. The soundtrack isn’t just pop-sounding rap, either. “The Ways” by Khalid and Swae Lee is smooth R&B crooning for a superwoman.
Similar tracks here that are more in-tune with R&B include “I Am” by English singer Jorja Smith. With its theme of self-empowerment in the lyrics, its opposite on the album is “Redemption” by Zacari and Babes Wodumo. Its production makes the song a dance-club track, for certain, with its Afro-South American musical vibe. But lyrically, it’s literally repetitive and therefore vapid. The album takes a darker, more aggressive turn with “Opps”. Backed by a more menacing beat than the poppy sounding ones heard thus far, the song is about taking out one’s own opposition. Vince Staples is featured on it and the beat changes once his verse drops, and it becomes even more bass-heavy when South African rapper Yugen Blakrok spits his verse.
Ab-Soul and Anderson .Paak both appear on “Bloody Waters”. A play on “Muddy Waters”, Ab-Soul raps while Anderson handles the hook. “I am Killmonger” is how “Paramedic” starts off. Courtesy of West Coast rap duo SOB x RBE, it has cowbell drum snares combined with the West Coast’s trademark low-riding bass. The track leads into “King’s Dead”, which is rapped form the point-of-view of the film’s antagonist, Killmonger. Kendrick and Jay Rock trade verses over echoing snares. Jay Rock has the better verse here and, though Killmonger is considered the film’s breakout character, its contrasting song (the “Black Panther” introductory track) was better. Sacramento emcee Reason has an interesting verse over the layered R&B beat comprising “Seasons”. “Pray for Me” is the album’s closer and its best track. More catchy than fishing bait thanks to The Weeknd’s hook, this song’s lyrics are more about Killmonger than “King’s Dead”:
I will say that, of all the soundtracks that have accompanied films from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, this one has gained the lion’s share of attention. Having Kendrick Lamar on it with this big of a hand in it certainly didn’t hurt. Considering the success of both the film and soundtrack, a second soundtrack shouldn’t be out of the question. If that does happen, it should include a more varied selection of rappers. Overall, the movie was better than the soundtrack. The mix of hip-hop and R&B gave the soundtrack a consistency, but the production is more interesting than the majority of the lyrics. However, the fact that this comic book film has a hip-hop soundtrack only strengthens the bond (which I’m fond of pointing out) that exists between both cultures.