Kendrick Lamar’s “Black Panther The Album” both hits and misses movie’s cultural significance

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King Kendrick is back at it again, this time in a much different environment than we have seen before with Black Panther: The Album, a soundtrack to the highly anticipated Marvel film, Black Panther. Here we see Kendrick take on a project that manages to remind us just how special of a talent he is, while also stepping a little outside of his comfort zone.

This album is filled with great production and a star-studded supporting cast, but unfortunately misses the overall tone of the movie at points. The movie itself is one of the most culturally important blockbusters released in some time, so when people heard a Kendrick-led album was going to accompany the film, many were excited. This was a rare opportunity for Kendrick and company to get together and deliver a message as large as the movie portrays, with Marvel’s first black superhero.

Lamar absolutely nails the message of hope for young black people. Many of the artists on this project relate themselves to the main protagonist of the movie, T’Challa. Kendrick and his supporting cast relay the idea that there’s hope for young black people to rise above the challenges that society has bestowed upon them. Not only that, Kendrick himself who oftentimes claims kingdom over the rap game, compares himself to T’Challa as well. While the movie was deeply rooted in black culture, there was hope that the album itself could have been a little bit more introspective than it really was.

Besides the fact that it misses some great opportunities, the album itself is pleasing to listen to. With projects of this format, it can be hard to make a cohesive, well thought out piece. However, Black Panther: The Album nearly accomplishes that cohesiveness. The album opens with a solid solo effort by Kendrick, where he gives us braggadocious rhymes with powerful meaning. Kendrick finishes the hook by rapping, “Kings did it, King’s vision, Black Panther, King Kendrick, all hail the King,” giving us an insight into what he thinks of himself, the king of rap. This is comparable to T’Challa, the king of Wakanda in Black Panther. This isn’t the first time Kendrick has referred to himself as king, as he did so in his To Pimp a Butterfly song, King Kunta, as well as his 2013 BET freestyle. This track has all the feels of a Kendrick song, with the abrasive bars and instrumental. It would fit nicely on any of his main studio albums.

The album has its most enjoyable run starting with the feature-heavy track “X.” Here Schoolboy Q and 2 Chainz have some of the better verses on the whole album, with 2 Chainz giving us his classic comical but swag filled bars, “From strip clubs to stadiums/ I took my shot and made it in.” Then we have “The Ways,” which is far and away the best song on this project. Once again, Khalid shines with his addictive, summerlike melodies and golden voice before hearing Swae Lee’s crooning falsetto compliment Khalid’s smooth melodies. With “Opps,” Kendrick and Vince Staples steal the show, welcoming in a change of pace. This song seems like it could’ve been cut directly from Staples’ 2017 album, Big Fish Theory, with abrasive and in your face bass lines. Next, Jorja Smith gets a solo cut with “I Am,” where she sets herself apart from the rest of the tracks with beautiful production and dreamy melodies. The last great song on this album, “King’s Dead,” features wavy Jay Rock, Kendrick and Future verses. Going in, expectations were low for Jay Rock’s verse, as he seems up to this point to be one of the less strong members of Top Dawg Entertainment (TDE), yet he delivered full force with a really great verse.

While the album has its fair share of fun tracks, a few definitely miss the mark. The big single of the project, “All The Stars” seemed to have promise with the combination of Kendrick and SZA, but leaves the listener wanting more by the end of it. Their collab on SZA’s breakout album CTRL, “Doves In The Wind,” was one of the highlights of that album, so this record had high expectations to begin with. When Kendrick is at his worst is when he ventures into pop, and on this track, that is exactly what he does. He comes off as disingenuous, making the whole track feel plastic. SZA’s cookie cutter hook doesn’t help the cheesiness behind it either. The final track, “Pray For Me,” sounds like a Starboy song gone wrong. It takes familiar flows that we’ve heard many times before from The Weeknd. Both songs comes out sounding plastic and forced.

All in all, the album is a fun, pop-influenced hip-hop project. Much like the usual Marvel movies, this album does little to influence the space around it. If it could have been more in line with the messages coming from the movie, it would have been something truly great. The album reinforces the idea of hope in black communities by piggybacking T’Challa’s symbolism from the movie. King Kendrick, along with his star-studded support crew, managed to make an album with a variety of really great songs in a less than groundbreaking way, playing it a little too safe when they could have really made an impact like we know Kendrick can and has.

Check out the full album below.

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