‘Black Panther: The Album’ review
By Joshua Toevs, Senior Columnist
Black Panther is a masterpiece in visuals and storytelling. Thrilling, emotional, engaging, and triumphantly diverse, it is arguably the best product that Marvel has put out in years. However, where the film is a homerun, the soundtrack helmed by Kendrick Lamar and Top Dawg Entertainment is more of a single.
This isn’t to say that there isn’t a lot to enjoy from the album. The production is layered and vibrant, with a plethora of beat switches throughout each song, which really keep your ears at attention. Kendrick Lamar is the MVP of the record with his performances on the title track as well as the Travis Scott-featured “Big Shot.” The title track is an exercise in lyrical prowess as Kendrick raps over a very minimalist beat. “Big Shot” is the complete antithesis of the former. It is a lot more fun and light, featuring a wind instrument in the forefront and a hi-hat heavy drum beat backing it. Kendrick is silky on this song, still showing off his ability to rap but this time having a bit more fun with it.
“Bloody Waters,” featuring Ab-Soul, Anderson Paak, and James Blake, absolutely snaps. It feels very West Coast with its laid-back sounds resonating throughout. That timid beat allows Soul to demonstrate why he is the best lyricist in TDE. There are so many quotable lines on this track, from references to the word guessing game hangman translating into actual lynching, to “electoral colleges devoted.” Ab-Soul usually raps on a higher level than his peers, and this track is the perfect avenue for him to do so.
Jorja Smith’s “I Am” features a hypnotizing drum loop that helps elevate Smith’s silky-smooth R&B vocals, while “Redemption” featuring Zacari is an African tribal banger with its steel drum and wavy percussion.
The biggest problem with this record is the lack of cohesion from song to song. While I understand this is a soundtrack for a motion picture, the fact that it was helmed by one team should have signified a better understanding on what songs to include and how to weave them throughout the track list. This lack of cohesion makes it hard to listen to without being distracted by the dissonance between tracks.
Musically, there are some confusing moments. The Kendrick and The Weeknd record “Pray For Me” is a showcase of lazy writing and even more phoned-in production. The song is about as cookie-cutter as you could expect: You could have put any two artists on this song and the result would have been the same.
The most egregious failure, however, is Future on “King’s Dead.” This song features Kendrick Lamar and Jay Rock, two of the West Coast’s best offerings in the rap game. They both brought it in the booth with Jay Rock especially showing off and flexing his lyrical prowess. Then Future steps up and raps one of the worst flows I have ever heard. “King’s Dead” should have been one of the more powerful songs on the record, but Future makes it nearly unlistenable and an early candidate for worst rap verse of 2018.
Overall this is a very good soundtrack for a movie. The songs have a mixture of emotion and bass knocking, and all have an African vibe to give you visions of Wakanda. However, as an album, the lack of cohesion and some questionable people performing knocks this down to an almost forgettable rap effort from Kendrick and company.