In the midst of his UK tour and just days before being announced as the saving grace on an otherwise dire Reading and Leeds bill, Kendrick Lamar brought us his highly anticipated new project, Black Panther: The Album, the soundtrack to Marvel’s latest blockbuster of the same name. All 14 tracks showcase the talent of 2018s biggest black artists; with established names including Travis Scott, The Weeknd and 2 Chainz starring alongside more recent breakthrough artists such as Jorja Smith and SZA.
At its best, the album dabbles in a wide array of genres of black origin. In Jorja Smiths sensual guitar anthem I Am, Kendrick takes a step back until the final verse- allowing Smith’s neo-soul infused vocals to take the lead through its sensitive lyrics and give the song its personality. Redemption differs from this almost entirely, with Babes Wodumo offering her talents in creating a track inspired by a South African subgenre of house (“gqom”). Although never something he’s shied away from before, this is Kendrick at his most experimental; showcasing the true, incredible diversity that’s fastly becoming increasingly embraced in the music industry.
Lead tracks Pray For Me (featuring The Weeknd) and All Of The Stars (featuring SZA) show that, despite the album at times being more of a demanding listen, it does hold ability to obtain mainstream commercial success. Although this appears to perhaps have been too much of the focus in Pray For Me, with it’s slightly predictable structure particularly in the bridge and chorus, as a whole the track does hold its own as the ideal superhero movie anthem. All The Stars isn’t much different, a clear cookie-cutter “safe” track; however, SZA’s strong yet ethereal vocals give it the edge on other superhero based pop mishaps (think Suicide Squad).
However, the infectious nature of hip-hop that often gives it radio play it still seen throughout the project. One of the most notable points for this is X, with Kendrick once again collaborating with ScHoolboy Q, following their infectious banger Collard Greens. In X, the beat and repetition of lyrics like “fuck the place up” oozes a similar power to what we heard in the critically acclaimed DAMN., not to mention that verse by 2 Chainz. This sense of conviction is continued in King’s Dead (“miss me with that bullshit!” being one of the most quotable lyrics) and Paramedic!. The latter, with the bold verses from rap collective SOB X RBE (alongside a short piano infused bridge) joining Lamar’s mechanical chorus makes for a deservedly boastful track.
As a complete project, the album may appear incoherent in points, but the display of variation in modern hip-hop that Kendrick manages to curate in this soundtrack is pure excellence. Black Panther: The Album, as a whole, is pure, undiluted confidence from both Kendrick and every featured artist, and will surely be marked as an album showcasing exactly what hip-hop (and the surrounding genres) means in 2018 in years to come.
Words by Alice Browne.