Black Panther: The Album is an explosive merging of artists, sounds, and cultures. Lamar takes the afro-futuristic vision of Wakanda and builds it into the music, using the fictional country’s ideas of diversity, innovation, and unity to immerse the listener in its universe.
This album differs from other soundtracks in that it’s a standalone project where artists take the themes from the film and make music inspired by it. With Top Dawg Entertainment given creative control over the project, an album was created that stands as an exciting musical collaboration, but simultaneously ties together with the story of Black Panther.
In the opening track ‘Black Panther’, Lamar uses a solo verse from the perspective of the films protagonist T’Challa. The lyrics center around the theme of heroism and being king, and parallel Lamar’s own life and responsibilities as the self-proclaimed king of rap. This uplifting and proud track is a perfect opening to the album. It ends in a sweet orchestral interlude which leads us into ‘All The Stars’, the first single from the album which features SZA. This continues the reoccurring theme of heroism, as Lamar battles those who oppose him, just like T’Challa.
Other songs on the album like ‘King’s Dead’ contrast this hopeful theme of optimism, as Lamar takes on the persona of antagonist Killmonger. A more aggressive approach is taken to represent Killmonger’s ambition to overthrow T’Challa (“not the title y’all want me under, all hail King Killmonger”). Lamar’s clear characterization throughout the album makes it incredibly special; not only does it immerse the listener within Wakanda, but also reflects Lamar’s own discography and the common issues and themes that lie within it. Identity, race, loyalty, sacrifice, love, corruption – these are all present within Black Panther: The Album, and solidify the films importance with an album that is just as impactful.
One of the most interesting things about this album is the variety of sounds and genres. It is clear that both Lamar and composer Ludwig Göransson had in mind the history and culture of Wakanda, a country that was never colonized and had never been influenced by Western culture, and worked this into the album through the use of African music and strong lyricism. African instruments are used, like the distinctive West African talking drum that is core to both the film’s soundtrack and the album. On ‘Seasons’, South African singer Sjava contributes in Zulu to sing of how Wakanda is generalized as a third world country, despite being rich in technology and wealth. South African rapper Yugen Blakrok is featured on ‘Opps’, a fast-paced song about fighting opposition. She references Kathleen Cleaver, a professor of law who was involved in the Black Panther party, further incorporating Black culture into the music.
While this album is an entertaining and brilliant piece of music, it also represents a groundbreaking moment in film – it’s the first time that Marvel has used original recordings created specifically for the film, and represents an interesting step towards a new way of integrated storytelling through music. The album explores the African diaspora through music in a way that many wouldn’t have seen before. The importance of Marvel collaborating with Lamar and other artists to bring such a diverse and emotive album is resolute, and hopefully cleared the way for further representation in film through music.
Black Panther: The Album is available to listen to now via Aftermath Records. Check out ‘All The Stars’ down below.