Initially enchanted by lead single “All the Stars,” with its tribal drum beat and dazzling Afrocentric music video, I’ve been bumping the Kendrick Lamar-curated Black Panther soundtrack all week. The song (which features SZA) is a worthy representative of the rest of the album—and, as I’d hoped, it came on right as Black Panther’s end credits rolled for the audience to enjoy as we waited for the sequel-teasing stingers.
In addition to producing original music for the album, Kung Fu Kenny appears on roughly half of the 14 tracks. After seeing the latest Marvel installment (and discovering how unapologetically Black it is), Lamar’s integral involvement in the movie’s music makes even more sense. There’s a humming tribal undercurrent throughout the album, with African beats, chants, and various verbal references to Wakanda and other elements of Black Panther. Lamar is famous for his unconventional use of jazz influences and artists on his critically acclaimed album To Pimp a Butterfly; here, he incorporates a variety of styles and artists on the track list.
“X,” with Schoolboy Q, 2 Chainz, and Saudi, stands out as an immediate favorite, though I didn’t notice when (or if) it was used in the movie. “Pray for Me,” with the Weeknd, sets the perfect mood for kicking off the film’s deadly casino mission, and there’s also gorgeous R&B from UK artist Jorja Smith (“I Am”) and a playful Travis Scott-Kendrick Lamar collab (“Big Shot”).
On songs like “Paramedic” and “King’s Dead” (with rapper Future and singer/songwriter James Blake), Lamar embodies a wrathful king and an African warrior. The sinister "King's Dead" roils with references to Erik Killmonger, Black Panther’s villain—at one point toward the end, Lamar even proclaims, “All hail King Killmonger.”
Another highlight is the festive-yet-somber “Seasons,” which features Sacramento rapper Mozzy, MC Reason, and Johannesburg native Sjava, who raps his entire verse in the Zulu language before a soulfully sung chorus. The English verses are equally appropriate to the subject matter, with lines like “Trapped in the system, traffickin’ drugs/Modern-day slavery, African thugs/We go to war for this African blood.”
I missed a lot of these themes in the music before seeing the movie, so I’m guessing that Black Panther: The Album gets better and more dissectible the more times I see the movie. And I plan on seeing it as many times as humanly possible.