Spearheaded by Top Dawg Entertainment veteran Kendrick Lamar, “Black Panther: The Album,” while not without its flaws, is the sonic embodiment of what the entire movie’s well-strategized roll-out has exuded: a clear, culturally driven vision that radiates class.
The production on the album, consisting of tribal-inspired percussion, heavy synths, booming kicks, and jarring transitions, is tight, exquisite and consistent throughout the duration of the project. There is a constant tug-of-war between grandiose and robust auditory themes, highlighting the motif of duality that is ever present in all of Kendrick’s discography, which is a perfect parallel to the character of T’Challa.
Although the ever-consistent theme of the record does leave the ears a bit tired after repeated listens of the project, there is respite in songs like Seasons and I Am. The two tracks, although similar in timbre, serve as welcome changes of pace in the tracklist production-wise. But a somewhat monotonous tracklisting is completely acceptable and expected of a soundtrack to a movie, as all of the sounds have to fit into place with each other.
The title track, with its schizophrenic transitions and solemn piano sample, sets the tone off well for the project. The first track not specifically featuring Kendrick, X, has fellow TDE member ScHoolboy Q, South African rapper Saudi, and southern hip-hop native 2 Chainz with the reins. Saudi, as well Sjava, Yugen BlakRok, and Babes Wodumo, are the African rappers featured on the album, which is a huge statement for hip-hop culture, as well as how black culture is intertwined heavily with both Black Panther the movie and Black Panther the soundtrack. African culture is not an afterthought on this project to serve as foreign, strange sounds for the sake of continuity. The use of tribal inspired sounds and African musicians shows that these influences are not contrived; they are on the forefront, mixing well with the culture of hip-hop itself.
Many of the more uptempo songs on the record, such as X, Paramedic!, and Big Shot, bear a striking resemblance to beats that you would hear on a BROCKHAMPTON project. It’s nice to see their slightly off-kilter style and playful instrumental melodies permeating the mainstream, especially since most of the collaborators on this project are also from the west coast. It signifies the shift that BROCKHAMPTON’s recent explosive success and fresh ideas have made in the sound of west coast production. Although this is only one record as an example, many A-list artists collaborated on this project, and will hopefully take these sonic ideas back to their own solo projects.
The two lead singles from the album, All the Stars and King’s Dead, were slightly underwhelming at their time of release, but within the context of the record, are much more compelling. SZA’s vocals over the lush, heavy, and dreamy synths pair well together on this track. K-Dot’s verse, however, still remains a bit lackluster, as are most of his bars accompanied with more pop-inspired vocals.
The softer tracks on the album, like The Ways and I Am, serve not only as a counterpoint to the more aggressive tracks, but are serene, thoughtful, colorful, and solidify their place in this project on their own rights and merits. Opps, a certified banger, is bursting with house and grime influence, adds a little more texture to the album without sacrificing vision.
The less significant songs on the album include Redemption, Big Shot, and Pray For Me, which are all found near the latter half of the album, which makes the album lose a bit of steam and plateau. Although the project is cohesive and the latter songs fit within the overarching idea of the album, this leaves the listener with a feeling of wanting. It detracts from the final imprint of the album but doesn’t ruin the listening experience.
– Josh Kayo is an English junior