Curated by the one and only Kendrick Lamar, Black Panther: The Album by Various Artists is finally here. Featuring songs that either appear in the eponymous film or are inspired by it, the record is an outstanding celebration of black culture and musical talent. A track–by–track review:
“Black Panther” by Kendrick Lamar
Opening the album is a single, hard–hitting verse delivered from the perspective of T’Challa, the protagonist of the Black Panther film. It’s a brilliant two minutes of Lamar declaring himself a “king” in innumerable ways.
“All the Stars” by Kendrick Lamar & SZA
Arguably the best song released so far in music this year, “All the Stars” is Lamar and SZA at their finest. The artists deliver a mesmerizing chorus about love and reaching for the stars, and compliment it perfectly with their respective verses. Include a synthetic drum–oriented beat, and you have a masterpiece. Check out the music video while you’re at it.
“X” by ScHoolboy Q, 2 Chainz, & Saudi
A banger? Absolutely. “X” doesn’t hide its intention—the song is an opportunity for Lamar, ScHoolboy Q, 2 Chainz, and Saudi to employ braggadocio at their best. The song makes heavy reference to the plot of Black Panther and does an excellent job of capturing T’Challa’s mentality towards his challengers.
“The Ways” by Khalid & Swae Lee
With laid–back production and two top R&B artists on their game, there’s something pleasing about “The Ways.” As Khalid and Swae Lee serenade a “power girl,” the listener can feel love in the air.
“Opps” by Vince Staples & Yugen Blakrok
As soon as the thumping beat pulls the listener in, there’s no escaping “Opps.” Lamar and Staples are on point in their deconstruction of cops and opposition gangs (hence “opps”), but the real star of this track is Blakrok. The South African rapper steals the show with her multisyllabic rhymes and crime–themed wordplay.
“I Am” by Jorja Smith
The only other (mostly) solo performance besides “Black Panther” on the album comes from Smith with “I Am.” The English singer makes the most of it. This track is about putting your fears aside and being yourself, and Smith does an outstanding job with her vocal inflections to put meaning into the message.
“Paramedic!” By SOB x RBE
Backed by hard–hitting production, the aggression is evident in Lamar’s chorus and the verses from hip hop collective SOB x RBE. The flow of the lyrics here is amazing–all of the artists avoid getting overcomplicated and maintain a hostile, powerful stream of assertions that they rule the “streets.”
“Bloody Waters” by Ab–Soul ft. Anderson .Paak & James Blake
With dark lyrics and a beat that evokes dripping droplets, “Bloody Waters” lives up to its name. Ab–Soul delivers puns of war and water at a rapid–fire pace, Paak brags masterfully in the chorus, and Blake’s outro is simply relaxing to listen to.
“King’s Dead” by Jay Rock, Kendrick Lamar, Future, & James Blake
Including Future on this song is this album’s lone major misstep—let’s just make that clear. Thankfully, Rock’s repetition–heavy opening verse, Blake’s blissful bridge, and Lamar’s fiery closing barrage more than make up for Future’s lackadaisical performance.
“Redemption Interlude” by Zacari
Not much to say here—Zacari’s falsetto is effortless as he deftly takes over this minute–long interlude.
“Redemption” by Zacari & Babes Wodumo
This song is simplistic in style and content, and it works very well. Zacari, Babes Wodumo, and Mampintsha smoothly interweave a desire for love over an instrumental of African drums. There’s a unique balance to “Redemption.”
“Seasons” by Mozzy, Sjava, & Reason
“Seasons” is a mournful discussion of the struggles of Africans and the black community as a whole. Sjava’s hypnotic Zulu lines provide advice in an unfamiliar language, while Mozzy and Reason deliver heartrending stories of their past. Beautiful.
“Big Shot” by Kendrick Lamar & Travis Scott
With “Big Shot,” Lamar and Scott subtly make a charming club hit about the perks of being rich and famous. While the song does seem a bit out of tone with the rest of the album, Lamar makes sure to mention his “Wakanda flex” as he and Scott rhyme neatly over a catchy background of woodwinds.
“Pray for Me” by The Weeknd & Kendrick Lamar
If not for “All the Stars,” it’s clear that this would be the centerpiece of the album. From the moment The Weeknd begins crooning over the metallic instrumental, through his pained chorus and Lamar’s verse, an overwhelming feeling of isolation and desire grips the listener. It’s spellbinding. As the drums conclude the song, one is left wanting so much more.