A sonic peak into the world of Marvel’s Black Panther
Over the lifetime of Hip-Hop, artists like 50 Cent, Eminem and 2Pac have released quality soundtracks for Hollywood films. Whole labels have also called upon their artistry to create movie soundtracks as Def Jam did with Belly. However, none of those works have been for a movie with the same amount of hype as Marvel’s Black Panther. When it was announced in early January that Kendrick Lamar and Top Dawg Entertainment would be producing the film’s soundtrack, it was music to the ears of Hip-Hop lovers. Not only would one of the industry’s top artist be releasing new music, he’d also be doing so with the help of talented label mates such as SZA and ScHoolboy Q.
Each song gives us a quick look into the type of stories Black Panther will be trying to tell us. It is clear from the first track that Lamar has placed himself in the role of T’challa, the King of Wakanda and the Black Panther himself, played by Chadwick Boseman. Lamar is the king of this project, providing vocals for all 14 of the tracks. In the opener “Black Panther,” Lamar talks about the role a king has over his people. The sound of this track wavers between peaceful and chaos, symbolizing a king’s role as leader in times of peace and war. We know that the role of king is one T’challa struggles with in the film, and this emotion is perfectly portrayed on this intro.
Then there are tracks like “X”, “Opps”, “Paramedic!”, and “Big Shot” which are the hard hitting aggressive bangers that are peppered throughout the soundtrack. The heavy bass drums sound like war drums behind the aggressive flows of artist like ScHoolboy, Saudi, Vince Staples, and Cali rap band SOB X RBE. The unapologetic vulgarity and braggadocious tones on these tracks are traits we expect to see in characters like Killmonger, played by Michael B Jordan, as well has T’challa as he fights to protect his people.
Then there are tracks like “I Am” and “Seasons” that slow down the pace in two very different ways. Young U.K. singer Jorjia Smith delivers a mournful message of struggle and sacrifice on “I Am,” while Cali Rapper Mozzy teams up with South African singer Sjava on “Seasons”. Sjava sings about his struggle story and keeping with his culture he sings completely in Zulu. This choice to emphasize the African Culture is keeping with the idea the movie has set. This will be Marvel’s first movie who cast is predominantly of African descent. Many of the young artists on this project such as Yugen Blakrok, Babes Wodumo, and Sjava are from South Africa.
One of the standout tracks is “The Ways” by phenom singer Khalid and Rea Sremmurd’s Swae Lee. Both men sing appreciation for the “power girl” in their life. It’s a love song to women who hold up their men while also lamenting the burden this can cause. We don’t know much about the roles of the female characters, but as we know all kings need their queens, and it’s looking like Nakia played by Lupita Nyong’o will fill that role. In most of the trailer we have seen that the woman of Wakanada are warriors and will have a strong presence throughout the movie. This song cements that idea and sounds wonderful at the same time.
Overall this project was a success. While not as complex as some on Lamar’s other projects, this soundtrack does its job. It gives us a look into the world of the Black Panther and provides the sounds and messages that we should expect from the film.