“Who am I?” raps Kendrick Lamar on “King’s Dead,” unleashing the verse he used to close his electrifying 2018 Grammys Performance. “Not your father, not your brother, not your comfort, not your reverence, not your glory, not your heaven, not your spirit, not your message, not your freedom, not your people, not your neighbor, not your baby, not your equal, not the title ya’ll want me under.”
On Black Panther: The Album (Music From and Inspired By), Lamar plays more roles than Eddie Murphy in Nutty Professor II: The Klumps — despite his aforementioned insistence to the contrary. Throughout the stellar, 14-track, nearly-50 minute project, Lamar establishes the album as his version of Drake’s More Life, functioning simultaneously as a rapper, curator, DJ Khaled-esque hypeman (ad-libbing “Black Panther” in relaxed moments) and show-stealer. On “Black Panther”, Kendrick opens the script from the perspective of the movie’s protagonist, T’Challa.
“Sisters and brothers in unison, not because of me,” explains Kendrick over a calmer moment of a CuBeatz and Sounwave instrumental that switches up more than an disloyal friend. “Because we don’t glue with opposition, we glue with peace. But still’ed fuck up your organization if any beef.”
The message, one that Kendrick preached throughout Damn, is that of non-violence until fighting becomes an absolute necessity. Ironically, the film Black Panther, which holds a 98 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, received its first bad review from a critic who felt T’Challa wasn’t “beating up bad guys” enough.
As a curator, Lamar, along with Top Dawg Entertainment CEO Top Dawg and Black Panther director Ryan Coogler, attracts eyes with the flashiest of names while showcasing (like More Life before it) lesser-known talent from around the world. Future offers up the strangest musical moment of his career on “King’s Dead”, rapping from 1:43-1:55 in what can only be described as a baby-that-sips-lean-voice. On the Travis Scott-featured “Big Shot,” the album’s penultimate song, Kendrick describes his whip’s exterior with language that must be added to the car salesman lexicon.
“Outside,” shouts Kendrick as he turns his “New Freezer” verse into a hook, “cocaine, white body look like Gentiles.”
Of the lesser-known appearances, Vallejo-based rap group SOB X RBE are devastatingly deft rhymers over the ambulance of a beat that is “Paramedic!”. Whereas Drake’s More Life gave a nod to Caribbean style and UK Grime rap, Black Panther showcases South Africa’s finest hip-hoppers. Alongside 2 Chainz and Kendrick, Ambitiouz Entertainment rapper Saudi drops a stunning, bilingual verse. Female emcee Yugen Blakrok appears on “Opps” and goes bar-for-bar with Vince Staples on the most-Vince Staples-y beat of all time.
“Blades on the top, Kathleen Clever,” raps Blakrok in reference to the Black Panther Party member. “Tangle my chords like a weaver.”
Black Panther: The Album works seamlessly with the film because of the dual nature of the respective protagonists. Both Kendrick Lamar and T’Challa (played by Chadwick Boseman) are black revolutionaries; beacons of hope that serve as models of stability through chaos.