Headphones: Kendrick Lamar - The King of Wakanda

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All hail the king.

King Kendrick fans around the world rejoiced when they learned that he would be creating an album inspired by the most recent installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, “Black Panther”. Along with TDE CEO Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith, Kendrick produced a 14-track piece full of music inspired by the film.

 

Recruiting some of the most prominent names in the rap industry as well as his TDE counterparts, Kendrick’s Black Panther: The Album mirrors the spirit of the film, making impactful cultural statements. Every track on the album contains Kendrick in some way, shape, or form. However, Kendrick allows a stacked roster of other artists to dominate most of the songs.

Along with fellow TDE (Top Dawg Entertainment) signees SZA, Jay Rock, Schoolboy Q, and Ab-Soul, Kendrick looked to multiple genres to create the list of artists featured on this masterpiece. While bringing prominent names like Khalid, Future, Travis Scott, 2 Chainz, and James Blake into the mix, other names that you’ve probably never heard of help compose some of the best tracks on the album.

“Paramedic!” brings up-and-coming Bay Area rap group, SOB x RBE, into the spotlight with this brilliant team up with Kendrick. With Kendrick providing a catchy chorus and Zacari adding a soothing intro, the four members of the Vallejo-based group each own their individual verses. Channeling the viewpoint of the film's antagonist, with Kendrick beginning the track stating “I am Killmonger”, this fast-paced, gritty rap track brings a villainous attitude to the album.

“I am” featuring the soulful voice of R&B singer Jorja Smith opens up with a slow guitar rift that is eventually accompanied by a heavy drum beat. Smith owns this song with her flowing voice and the miraculous way she can change pitch, getting little assistance from Kendrick.

Almost every song on the album has one thing in common: a distinct drumline. Incorporating drum beats that you might normally find on a Kendrick project coupled with drum beats fitting more to the African setting and culture of the film create a unique sound distinguishable from other Kendrick albums. For most tracks on the album, the drums set the pace of the song with the long list of features providing rhythmic vocals to accompany them.

The albums first released single, “All the Stars”, produced by Sounwave and featuring fellow TDE star SZA has dominated charts since its January release. Kendrick fans are no strangers to SZA as the duo have teamed up on previous tracks like “Doves in the Wind” or “Babylon”. The track features a slow drum line along with a soothing chorus from SZA. Throughout most of the song we hear voice overs of Kendrick who adds a fast-paced verse to oppose the flow of SZA’s chorus. This track not only provided fans with what they expect from the TDE duo of Kendrick and SZA, but also gave them a glimpse of what the rest of the album had to offer.

“King’s Dead”, the next released single off the album features the bars of Jay Rock and trap icon Future, as well as a wavy interlude in the middle of the song by singer James Blake. The track switches between verses from Kendrick, Jay Rock, and Future while Kendrick provides a bouncy chorus. The chorus of the track is the best part, with Kendrick exclaiming “Miss me with that bullshit / You ain’t really wild, you a tourist”. In the second version of the chorus, Kendrick passes off to Future who spits his best lines of the song before going into a high-pitched bridge. After Blake’s quick interlude, the song completely changes pace. The beat picks up drastically and Kendrick drops a long verse to close the song out. Kendrick no doubt carries the song, but the addition of Future and James Blake in the classic duo of Kendrick and Jay Rock provides fans with something new and innovative.

The video for “Kings Dead”, the most recently released video off the album features Kendrick, Jay Rock, and Future in a frantic collection of visuals. The video features shots of the trio of rappers in palm trees, on top of buildings, and vibing in what appears to be a Wall Street office. However, the video takes a darker turn when Kendrick drops his closing verse. The change to an encounter in a dark alley mirrors the change in the song going from Kendrick’s bouncy chorus to his raw verse. The video depicts two different moods, and two different versions of Kendrick. It captures the relaxed version of Kendrick, matching the catchy chorus and beat of the beginning of the song as well as the darker version of Kendrick which matches the intense feel of the second part of the song. 

In 2016 fans finally got a long-awaited collaboration featuring Kendrick with top R&B artist, The Weeknd. “Sidewalks”, off of The Weeknd’s album Starboy got a lot of attention due to the popularity of both artists. Well now, two years later, we are gifted again with another collaboration between The Weeknd and Kendrick. “Pray for Me”, the third released single off the album and one of the songs to actually be featured in the film offers a track quite similar to their first team-up in 2016. Like “Sidewalks”, this track features verses from both artists with The Weeknd on the chorus. The track works in perfect cohesion with the film with a fast-paced tribal beat complimented by Kendrick’s bars and The Weeknd’s soft vocals. The songs pace parallels that of the movie, making it clear why it was one of the only songs to be featured in the actual movie. After the success of their second collaboration, Kendrick and The Weeknd have found a sound that works and give fans hope for their work together in the future.

“X”, one of the best tracks off the album, features verses from Schoolboy Q, 2 Chainz, and Saudi to accompany a filthy hook from Kendrick. Saudi opens the track with a verse showcasing his unique flow and South African flair. With Kendrick on the hook, Schoolboy Q and 2 Chainz have the chance to shine both offering killer verses to make this one of the true bangers on the album.

This is obviously not a traditional Kendrick Lamar album, nor is it actually credited to Kendrick. However, Kendrick and Tiffith have produced something special to accompany the movie that has rocked the nation. Following the record-breaking success of the film, Black Panther: The Album has recently reached number one for two straight weeks on the Billboard 200 list making it the second movie soundtrack in 2018 to crack the top five. It is not often that a movie soundtrack gets the type of attention that this has, but then again not many movie soundtracks are entirely produced by and featuring one of the top dogs in the music industry.

One similarity that this album has to Kendrick’s previous work is the cultural implications, which we’ve seen in albums like To Pimp a Butterfly.  In the past few months we have seen Black Panther talked about non-stop as it features a nearly all-black cast and crew. This has gained the movie a significant amount of media coverage, which has resulted in its influence transferring to the music industry. Artists like Travis Scott (Featured on the album in “Big Shot”) have bought out theaters just to offer those who may not have the money the opportunity to see the film. With a ground-breaking film like this, it only makes sense that they would recruit Lamar, one of the most influential artists in music, to produce the soundtrack.

As the film continues to crush box offices around the country, Black Panther: The Album will only continue to see positive results as it already has. Once it was released that Kendrick would be producing an entire soundtrack based on Black Panther anyone could’ve guessed that the album would be a success. However, Kendrick was still able to surprise fans with a masterpiece compiled of 14 tracks featuring some of the top names in the music industry. Whether or not you like Hip Hop or superhero movies, Black Panther: The Album is a must listen and the perfect pairing to a revolutionary film like Black Panther.