Black Panther is the story of an African prince who comes home to be crowned king following the death of his father. His kingdom, Wakanda, is entirely fictional outside of the Marvel Universe, as is their precious source of technology, a metal known as Vibranium. Killmonger, Black Panther’s cousin and challenger for the throne, believes that Wakanda cannot stay hidden from the world, and must use their advanced technology to cause massive revolution by giving African-American’s the tools they need to take control. T’Challa, the Black Panther, believes that revealing themselves to the world would be too dangerous, and that mass revolution and violence isn’t the answer. After learning from Killmonger how hard African-American’s have it in the U.S., and stopping his violent takeover of Wakanda, the Black Panther realizes that he cannot sit and do nothing. He reveals Wakanda’s presence to the world, and will forge his own way to help those in need.
While the film was incredibly important for depicting a strong and proud black superhero, most of the story is as fictional as Wakanda and vibranium. The only story told that represents a segment of the American, black experience, is from the perspective of the villain, Killmonger. While his violent tendencies and revolutionary approach lead to the character’s fateful end, his backstory and motives for a black uprising mirror those of Malcolm X, in simplest form.
Black Panther, the film, might have been incredibly important for black representation in superhero film, but Black Panther: the Album, is able to explore the larger, worldwide black experience, lost within the story of a fictional African royalty. Not only does Kendrick Lamar parallel his rise to fame in the rap world with the Black Panther’s ascension to the throne, but he is also able to discuss the larger black diaspora by including multiple musical styles, as well as the artists that helped bring them to the forefront of black music.
On Black Panther: the Album, Kendrick Lamar and T.D.E.’s unintended response to Drake’s More Life “playlist,” the larger realm of black music is explored from Compton/LA gangsta rap, to R&B, pop, South African rap, funk, and dancehall. Features include T.D.E. members Kendrick Lamar, Jay Rock, Ab-Soul, ScHoolboy Q, and SZA, rappers Travis Scott, 2 Chainz, Future, Mozzy, Vince Staples, Reason, SOB x RBE and Swae Lee, electronic artist James Blake, Neo-Soul singers Anderson .Paak and Jorja Smith, pop-figures The Weeknd, Khalid and Zacari, and South African artists Saudi, Yugen Blakrok, Babes Wodumo, and Sjava.
the radio singles like “All the Stars” and “Pray For Me” were great intro’s, as well as two of the songs that were actually featured in the film, but it was in tracks that featured the most diverse artists such as “X,” “Opps,” “Paramedic!,” “Redemption,” and “Seasons,” that made Black Panther: the Album such a big success. “X” was an amazing follow-up to “King’d Dead,” featuring an opening verse from South African rapper Saudi, “Opps” featured an amazing trade off between Kendrick, Vince Staples, and South African rapper Yugen Blakrok, “Paramedic!” showcased rising Bay Area rappers SOB x RBE, “Redemption” borrowed a more syncopated rhythm and island sound, and “Seasons,” which featured rising LA rapper and Best Verse of February 2018 winner “Reason” and South African singer “Sjava,” might just be one of the best tracks on the record.
About 80% of the record, that is when Kendrick doesn’t interject with “Black Panther” or “I am Killmonger,” has almost nothing to do with the world of Black Panther, or the film, as I talked about in my post “King’s Dead: Complicates the Purpose of ‘Black Panther: The Album,'” but it turns out that the record functions as an album in of itself, with the “Black Panther” theme floating around the material actually helping shape the project.
Black Panther: the Album didn’t have to be anything more than akin to Wiz Khalifa and Ludacris teaming up for a Fast & Furious album to accompany the film, or a “playlist” such as Drake’s More Life, that really functions as the next Drake record more than it does highlight other artists, but somehow Black Panther: the Album is able to balance both tasks and put the spotlight on some amazing talent from South Africa.
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