Kendrick and company blend together on ‘Black Panther: The Album’
Ryan Israel | Friday, February 16, 2018
“King of my city, king of my country, king of my homeland,” utters Kendrick Lamar over a simple piano riff.
Taken out of context, this statement from Lamar seems conceited, narcissistic and very far from “HUMBLE.” However, to gain a deeper understanding of Lamar’s words, one has to merely look to the title of the song — “Black Panther.” The song is the title track from the recently-released project “Black Panther: The Album.” The album was released a week before the highly-anticipated blockbuster which hits the screens Friday. The anticipation surrounding the superhero flick is a result of the fact that it is yet another Marvel film and its representation of African culture.
“Black Panther: The Album” is captained by the aforementioned Kendrick Lamar, who produced and curated the project while appearing on nearly every track. The Grammy award–winning rapper’s best appearance comes on “Black Panther,” when he drops a single extended verse with skillfully executed ebbs and flows. Lamar’s lyrics highlight the duality of the album — his words sound as though they could be coming from either Kendrick or T’Challa, the “Black Panther.” However, most artists on the album do not deliver the same double-meaning that Lamar does.
The result of throwing together a multitude of artists to create “Black Panther: The Album” is a mix of a few different types of songs. With such a mix, the album lacks consistency and finds itself spread across multiple genres. The most prevalent genre found on “Black Panther: The Album” is rap.
“Paramedic!” is the album’s best rap song and it presents the outstanding work of the Bay-area rap collective SOB x RBE. The group’s four rappers stay on-par with Kendrick throughout the entire aggressive rap track and Yhung T.O. closes out the song with an outstanding verse.
Other rap tracks, however, fall flat, like “X” by ScHoolboy Q, 2 Chainz and Saudi. Kendrick Lamar’s excessively long and repetitive chorus is too much and 2 Chainz’s verse feels out of place. “X” misses the mark, despite utilizing the letter used to mark the spot.
Rhythm and blues is the second major genre found on “Black Panther: The Album” and the first of these tracks is “The Ways” by Khalid and Swae Lee. While the combination of these two exceptional singers may seem good on paper, it does not work incredibly well here. Despite delivering a catchy hook, Khalid’s voice sounds unnaturally distant and removed while Swae Lee is offset by Lamar’s echoes.
Later on the album comes “I Am,” an excellent R&B jam which showcases the talents of Jorja Smith. Smith, a young English singer, handles the track’s heavy beat easily and delivers the poignant verse “When you know what you got, sacrifice ain’t that hard.”
The third type of song found on “Black Panther: The Album” is the formulated chart topper. “All The Stars” is the chart topper that stands above the rest. On this track, Top Dawg Entertainment artist SZA dominates both her chorus and verse while a dynamic beat plays to her strengths. “All The Stars” seems poised to win the contest for most popular song from “Black Panther: The Album” and contrasts sharply with “Pray For Me,” the album’s concluding track. “Pray For Me” is an unfortunately failed mixture of The Weeknd’s signature style with Lamar’s raw lyrics.
For every exceptional track on “Black Panther: The Album,” there seems to be another that falls short. Most of these blunders are understandable given the difficulty of basing an entire album off of a film and the wide variety of artists included. In the end, however, when looking at the project on its own, the blunders draw “Black Panther: The Album” down to mediocrity.
Artists: Kendrick Lamar, SZA and The Weeknd
Album: “Black Panther: The Album (Music From and Inspired By)”
Label: Aftermath Records
Tracks: “Paramedic!,” “I Am,” “All The Stars”
If you like: Any pop or rap music