Hip Hop Heroes: Review of ‘Black Panther: The Album’

The film “Black Panther” has been a great success. And, along with its cinematic triumph, it has also proved to be a musical success. “Black Panther: The Album” is brilliant. It is, at its core, a display of the sensation of its producer, Kendrick Lamar, and his group, Top Dawg Entertainment. In addition, it offered a space for Lamar to experiment and have fun in a way his previous work has not allowed him to. “Damn,” and even “good kid, M.A.A.D City,” offered more focus and precision than experimentation.

The experimentation in this album is seen in the variety of sound that it projects. The song “Opps” is characterized by hard hitting drums, synths and a methodically haunting flow, while a song like “The Ways” is more playful and snappy complemented by the snares on the track. The experimental portion shines but the pop hits are still scattered throughout the album. Songs like “King’s Dead” and “All The Stars” are more mainstream in their use of a typical Kendrick drum kit and a more pop-like beat, respectively. All the while, an African vibe prevails through it all, be it through the instruments or voices like Sjava, a South African musical artist.

Still, the true brilliance of the album lies in the presence of Kendrick Lamar. This is a Kendrick album. However, he won’t let us know that. He drops crazy verses and a few adlibs and then seems to step back. This stepping in and out allows each song to take on its own life while still guiding the album’s direction. In the first song of the album, “Black Panther,” he makes it known it is his album with an alternation between the numb and the explosive rap flows reminiscent of the song “m.A.A.d. city.” In         “Paramedic!” in turn, he takes on a West Coast vibe and has fun for the entire track. And, then again, on songs like “I Am,” he pops in only at the end. In this manner, he is literally the thread that holds the project together.

Feb 23, 2018