Coming off the back of three critically acclaimed studio albums (four if you include ‘untitled. unmastered’), Kendrick Lamar is in the enviable creative space of being able to do whatever he wants. While a soundtrack album may on paper appear to be stifling for an artist like Lamar, the curator role he’s taken on this project has allowed more flexibility in producing an album that isn’t expected to be as insightful as his solo work. It also helps that Kendrick and Marvel’s Black Panther have more than a few thematic similarities.
The references to the film on this project are few and far between, with Kendrick and TDE instead choosing to echo the spirit of the movie without directly assimilating the plot into the music. Even on the title track ‘Black Panther’, which most clearly mirrors the motivations of the film’s hero, Kendrick uses King T’Challa as inspiration to discuss his own parallel experiences.
The album is almost a direct split between rap tracks like the insane ‘Paramedic’, and gorgeously lush R&B cuts like ‘The Ways’ and Jorja Smith’s ‘I Am’. Some tracks feel slightly like leftovers from the guest artists’ solo work, as the Vince Staples-featuring ‘Opps’ and ‘Pray For Me’ with The Weeknd could easily fit on their most recent projects. However, these tracks still fit thematically on the album, and both are only enhanced by the inclusion of verses from Lamar.
Although Kendrick’s influence is felt throughout the project, the album comes across as a group effort from the TDE team. Hopefully this isn’t the closest we’ll get to the fabled Black Hippy album, but the other members of that collective deliver easily the three most memorable verses on the project. Jay Rock’s incredibly bouncy verse of ‘King’s Dead’ is only marginally ruined by Future’s much maligned feature, Ab-Soul is typically poetic on ‘Bloody Waters’ and ScHoolboy Q steals the show on ‘X’.
Such is the weight of expectation on Kendrick as a solo artist, this project feels very liberating for the Compton rapper, as he can curate an album that isn’t expected to be particularly meaningful. That isn’t to say there aren’t layers and depth to this album, but it can be more easily digested than Lamar’s previous projects. Black Panther: The Album is an instantly enjoyable project that allows its featured artists to shine under the watchful eyes and ears of Kendrick Lamar.
Words: Will Rosebury
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