Kendrick Lamar’s label “Top Dog Entertainment” (TDE) curated the album made for and inspired by the new Marvel movie “Black Panther.” Led by Lamar and the rest of the TDE cast, the album feels more like a cohesive project than the typical jumbled grab bag of songs released alongside big motion pictures. The album is partially a compilation of old unused b-side tracks and reused verses, but is mostly new material.
Just like any movie album, the album has a grand assortment of big-name features in addition to the TDE crew, including Travis Scott, Future, Swae Lee, 2 Chainz, Vince Staples, and SOB X RBE. The lyrics and messages in the songs are all over the place, but at the very least loosely tied to the movie and its themes.
Kendrick Lamar kicks off the album in the intro “Black Panther.” His flow is nonstop and fluctuates back and forth between aggressive and slow. Here, he also first calls himself one of the characters, something he will do more in later songs.
The next song has a notable feature from up-and-coming artist SZA, but is an overall underwhelming track. The same goes for Big Shot, which has a big name feature in Travis Scott, yet seems to be among Kendricks more lazy songwriting. On the chorus of Big Shot, Kendrick even re-uses his verse from “New Freezer,” an unrelated song by Rich The Kid released in 2017. While these songs were relatively disappointing, the album also had many high points.
X, featuring 2 Chainz and Schoolboy Q has an exotic beat, a simple but catchy hook from Kendrick, and a strong features. Schoolboy Q unique flow and voice especially make the track fun and enjoyable.
“Opps” has the distinct Wakandan style with the drums and whistles. Vince Staples contribution is also very enjoyable despite the otherwise rather forgettable track.
“Paramedic” by Kendrick Lamar and SOB X RBE is the best song on the album. The SOB X RBE group are full of energy, coming through with their uniquely loud and fast flows. While it is questionable how exactly this relates to the “Black Panther” movie itself the song celebrates the violent gang lifestyle. The first 30 seconds of the song include an introduction from the silky-voiced Zacari who appeared on Kendrick’s “DAMN” from 2017. Zacari’s contribution feels slightly out of place on this song, but is still enjoyable.
Kendrick Lamar teams up with Jay Rock, Future and James Blake to produce “King’s Dead.” This song takes us inside the mind of a villain. After a catchy intro by Lamar, Jay Rock has a fiery verse over an instrumental. James Blake has a short and trippy intro into Kendrick Lamar’s closing verse which takes the perspective of the villain of the film Killmonger, who is seeking out power.
“Pray for Me” by Kendrick Lamar and The Weeknd is the final track of the album and introduces us to the challenges of being a superhero. This is the second time Lamar and The Weekend have worked together to produce a soundtrack, the first collab being “Sidewalk” from the popular album Starboy. The techno beat throughout the track makes the vibe futuristic and suspenseful. The Weeknd’s slow smooth flow throughout his two verses is contrasted by this beat but adds to Kendrick Lamar’s pointed rap verse detailing the hardships of a superhero’s life.
While it is varied and a little bit all over the place, the project as a whole is a cut above other ‘movie albums’ sustaining Kendrick and Top Dog Entertainment’s excellence.