01 March 2018

REVIEW: Black Panther: The Album

Ever since the TDE collective Black Hippy started to gain notariety after Kendrick Lamar burst onto the scene in 2012, fans have been clamoring for a project featuring all four members of the label.  As years have passed and Top Dawg Entertainment grew into a juggernaut in the industry, they also acquired new members and made several alliances along the way, so an album with just Kenny, Soul, Q, and Jay Rock began making less and less sense.

Luckily, an opportunity arose when director Ryan Coogler approached Kendrick about an idea to be at the helm of the soundtrack for the movie Black Panther.  In an interview, Coogler stated that "Kendrick's artistic themes align with those we explore in the film."  So following the DAMN. tour, Kung Fu Kenny and his in-house production team began laying down the groundwork for what could possibly go down as one of the best movie soundtracks ever created in the form of Black Panther: The Album.  In addition to providing the backdrop for the film itself, the soundtrack inadvertently satiates the hunger from fans that have been longing for TDE to form like Voltron and shock the world with their immense talent and perspective.  This may not be a Black Hippy project per se, but this is definitely an amazing consolation.

Let me start off by saying THIS SOUNDTRACK IS FUCKING PHENOMENAL!  Black Panther: The Album can be enjoyed whether or not you've actually seen the film, but understanding the references heard throughout will hit you much harder if you are familiar with the source material.  The reason is because this album is a perfect illustration of every major event in the movie and its overall significance.  In some ways, Kendrick creatively re-tells the stories of both T'Challa and Killmonger, as well as the societies each character comes from.  Kendrick's verse on "All The Stars" is from the perspective of T'Challa when Killmonger came storming into the throne room making demands, while Khalid & Swae Lee sing an ode to the powerful women of Wakanda on "The Ways."  The West Coast-infused "Paramedic" almost serves as Killmonger's theme song, while "Bloody Waters" and "King's Dead" are essentially the height of the conflict between both main characters, as Killmonger defeats T'Challa and assumes the throne.

Even though Kendrick isn't featured on every track, his influence is heard thematically throughout.  This album features notable contributions from artists representing every facet of urban culture, and most of it works extremely well, with only a few head scratchers.  Swae Lee and Future may be in a similar lane in this industry, but the gap in their creativity and ability to blend into a song are staggering.  Swae Lee fits perfectly alongside Khalid on "The Ways," despite Khalid's reputation as being more of a true 'artist.'  Meanwhile, Future's embarrassing attempt to flex his creative muscle on "King's Dead" is so bad that it ruins a moment that could have been special for Jay Rock, who managed to pull a whole new style out of his arsenal on this song.

"Redemption's" rhythmically African sound may come across as jarring when compared to all the other vibes that precede it, but it quickly becomes an infectious change of pace that is both unexpected and welcome.  Kendrick has a way of piecing together a project to where you won't ever feel fatigued by a single style becoming redundant.  One of the album's strongest tracks is "Seasons."  Equal parts hood and motherland, this song exemplifies the internal struggles Killmonger faced being stripped from his roots in Wakanda and forced to grow up in a poverty-stricken environment in Oakland, California.

In true Kendrick Lamar fashion, Black Panther: The Album concludes on a high note with The Weeknd on the futuristic "Pray For Me."  Like most of the album, it's just great hearing songs that both fit the movie, and are simply enjoyable to listen to from a musical standpoint.  This epic conclusion caps off a 14-track thrill ride that solidifies just how dominant TDE truly is.  These guys are checking off a lot of boxes this decade, and building a truly legendary resume to boot.  With so many artists from within TDE and outside the camp, this soundtrack often feels like Top Dawg Entertainment's compilation album, similar to The Dynasty.  What a time to be alive!  Kendrick is becoming a renaissance man of sorts, by curating one of the greatest soundtracks of all time up there with the likes of Above the Rim, Juice, Superfly and Purple Rain.  Top Dawg may have been the coach, Kendrick may have been the quarterback, but the entire squad gets the W for this soundtrack.

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