Black Panther (The Album), 2018
Signed up the 28/03/2017
Black Panther The Album has done well to introduce us to the advanced, decolonial world of Wakanda. This is a technologically advanced African nation, all with its own infrastructure, resources and medium of exchange. Wakanda produces an ore called Vibranium which makes the all-Black nation a leading weapons manufacturer.
The music from this album isn't the music that will played in the movie itself, but some of it has been adapted for the Lugwig Göransson-led score. For all those who might be confused, a score and a soundtrack aren't the same. The score is the music played within the movie, the soundtrack is the compilation that serves to compliment, and is inspired by, the movie's themes- outside of the movie itself.
Tapping Kendrick Lamar for this gig makes all the sense. Over the years he's shown his rare ability to address themes that are found in the Black community as honestly as possible. The power in his commentary is chilling. Kendrick is proud of his being Black, in spite of being scarred from this very reality. He dedicates himself to uplifting the Black community through his talent. He promotes the culture to be advantageous to the people who have for years nurtured it without credit or profit. And he's been consistent in this since his inception as a mainstream rapper. It comes as no surprise that director Ryan Coogler would specifically seek his talent out. He made no mistake, too, as Kendrick is meticulous in his curation. His and his TDE team's ear is right on the money in bringing a contemporary Wakanda to life through music.
For a movie of this scale, any content that serves as promotional material has to ultimately reach audiences from all specs, instead of an isolated group. This is afterall a blockbuster superhero movie before anything. This crucial requirement, for a product by Disney, is handled expertly on this album. For the most part we get the advanced thematically apt sounds that we'd expect from such an album, but the production also shies away from explicit konga's and instead digitizes an "African" sound for a more pop feel. This is of course so the album has an open chance at charting.
Themes that were anticipated such as post-colonialism, imperialism and the revolution weren't explored to their potential. It is clear from the second track that this is an effort meant to be more contemporary than tribal. We instead get some fun and playfulness as much as we get testimonies of the effects systematic oppression and racism, like we do in songs such as Seasons. In this particular song we find (fellow) South African, Sjava gliding over a harmonious 808-injected beat sing-rapping a spiritual on his upbringing and background. American rappers Reason and Mozzy come in with supporting roles just as nostalgic and emotionally-charged. This is the type of song that really reels you into harsh realities that people of colour are subjected to from birth.
In the opening track, titled Black Panther, Kendrick injects his own persona into the Wakandan King as he dawns the suit and spirit of the Black Panther. He assesses his role as King of the most advanced nation in the world, while also reflecting on his own purpose as one of the leading rappers in the world today.
Kendrick LamarKing of my city, king of my country, king of my homeland
King of the filthy, king of the fallen, we living again
King of the shooters, looters, boosters, and ghettos poppin'
King of the past, present, future, my ancestors watchin'
This song is expected to set the tone of the rest of the album but is instead just the opposite. This perhaps serves as an apologue spotting our expectations of the movie vs the reality of it. As we've seen on social media over the days nearing the film's worldwide debut, there's much more weighed on the movie's shoulder than is fair. This is a movie expected to bring peace into Black communities, as well reduce poverty and do away with systematic oppression and racism. This pressure is more than unrealistic and simply absurd. We should instead be embracing and celebrating the movie for what it is; the first movie of its scale and budget to consist of a predominantly Black cast, centred around a Black lead, set in a advanced (though fictional) African nation.
In "King's Dead" we find that this time Kendrick (the featured artists too) sheds his own character and conjures that of anti-hero and the Wakandan King's foe, Killmonger. Killmonger is angered and darkened against T'Challa upon his father being previously exiled (murdered) from Wakanda. He's now here, wreaking chaos and vengence as he plans to claim the Wakanda King's live and so have his nation for himself. So help any one who tries to stop him.
Kendrick LamarWho am I? Not your father, not your brother
Not your reason, not your future
Not your comfort, not your reverence, not your glory
Not your heaven, not your angel, not your spirit
Not your message, not your freedom
Not your people, not your neighbor
Not your baby, not your equal
Not the title y'all want me under
All hail King Killmonger
The opening track is followed by the less weighty, more hopeful "All the Stars", featuring Kendrick's label-mate, SZA. This track goes into the "pop-friendly" basket that I addressed above, dawning a sing-along electricity over a thumping and clocking production. Here we find the two artists encouraging endearment while encouraging ambition and bravery.
Songs such as X, Pray for Me and Opps strike a perfect balance between concious-rap and club-banger material. The forces on either side of the equilibrium offer lighter and darker variations respectively. Chaos is set to confront an otherwise peaceful nation by way of the vengeful Killmonger. This enemy serves as a corrupted rendition of T'Challa. The attack he imposes unto Wakanda will undoubtedly agitate the Wakandan King to the point of him confronting his dark side. This calls for T'Challa to reconcile his virtuous side with his more taunted side on an equal grounding so that he may be able to defeat his foe and protect his people from harm.
The Black Panther album is a fusion of African sounds digitally manipulated into futurism. It is a well-balanced album that serves the Disney agenda for wide appeal while also portioning to a grounding where which it is faithful to its true inspiration; Black lives, our struggles and what we'd be capable of were we not leashed. Though it strays from exploring afrocetrism/futurism and other African themes of the sort, this is a seasoned album that adequately fulfills its purpose as the musical support of a superhero movie of this scale.
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