With Black Panther being the most talked about film on everybody’s timeline and feeds, it would be almost criminal not to discuss its accompanying soundtrack as a resident music writer here on MCM.
While the film has been breaking records the soundtrack has been doing numbers of its own, with 8 of its songs charting in the Billboard Hot 100. The album collectively debuted at number 1 on the billboard 200 and boasted 154K units by the end of February 15th.
What makes this soundtrack really special is the fact that the majority of the track list isn’t actually featured within the film itself, but rather inspired by its tone and themes. Being a 14 track body of work, the soundtrack was bound to cover an array of genres with a flavour to suit everyone’s tastes.
I definitely couldn’t review the soundtrack without discussing its lead track.
All THE STARS
This is likely to be the most famous of the songs on the list and is doing incredibly well in the charts. With a masterful meeting of sounds blending the soulful yet edgy vocals of SZA with Kendrick’s smooth rap vibe, the success of the single in charts has earned Kendrick his seventh top 10 and SZA her second. Naturally everybody is awe of the music and the accompanying visuals did not disappoint either.
While there was a clear black panther influence with some of its imagery, the music video could have easily been a stand alone visual reference to African heritage.
The video opens with an ocean of hands, which could be a symbol of humans and their connection to the earth. It could also be perceived as Kendrick paying homage to struggles of those who went before him. (If you are thinking triangular slave trade, you are in the right ball park).
What I really loved was the visual references to Africa. There were so many great moments that there isn’t enough time to list them all. A subtle yet image was the shape of Africa being depicted by a constellation of stars. The camera then zooms in to Sza being almost within touching distance of those very same stars. All the stars being closer could be a direct allusion to the film, and it’s subsequent soundtrack being a connecting force between black people and their African heritage.
In the following scene there is a woman who I perceive to be mother Africa in gold/yellow attire, Kendrick in orange and the surrounding people red. You mix red and yellow and you get orange, so maybe Kendrick was also insinuating the aforementioned idea through the use of colour. That I will leave to your discretion.
This track is likely to be one of the most commercial songs from the album with simple layered melodies and a catchy hook. It came as no surprise it reached number 1 here in the UK. Not to mention it is spear headed by two of the most popular voices in black culture right now.
Another track which stood out to me, simply because of its artistic flair. It had a unique sense of musicality that only Kendrick himself could carry off. The track very much captures the essence of an internal conflict which is reflected in each of its elements, from the songs tempo, to its melodic lines, and of course it’s lyrics.
The song begins with djembe drums, creating the feeling of being ushered into the jungle. This brings to mind this image of a tribe standing around a campfire. It then switches to a slightly out of tune piano melody reminiscent of an old school hip hop beat. The song starts off peaceful and calm before gradually becoming more aggressive. The piano is completely out of key by the point and which his lyrics intensify. Then jumps back in to the original melody.
The message in this track to me was embracing the beauty in brokenness.
While the track was clearly written from the perspective of T’Challa and is likely a verbal illustration of his identity struggle as depicted in the film, this track also subtlety alludes to the plight the black people in America; particularly in the second verse. Lyrically Kendrick speaks on this idea of wanting to be peaceful and peace always being the first method, but not shying away from the fight if the cause requires it.
The track ends with a beautiful sax melody which made for a welcomed yet unexpected addition to the outro.
While I don’t think this track is particularly cohesive, I believe that this was done intentionally to represent the conflicting thoughts Kendrick was battling with.
Was the final standout track for me by Jorja smith & Kendrick Lamar.
It carries a completely different vibe to the rest of the soundtrack excluding the interlude but still manages to fit in with the overall concept. It seems that she can do no wrong as her soft vocals were a perfect contrast to the edgy passion filled electric guitar melody. What was even more interesting were the lyrics which detailed the idea of being brave in the face of change as well as the idea of sacrificing freedom in order to preserve the greatness that has already been attained.
Taken literally this could be interpreted to mean that sometimes we have to sacrifice our free time, or time spent with friends or family in the pursuit of greatest.
Looking beyond surface and delving into the songs connection to the movie it is likely that the song is referencing the people of the Wakanda and the sacrifice of their secrecy in efforts to conceal their technological advances. Very clever indeed.
Overall I think the soundtrack was successful. It is very difficult to get several artists with varying sounds and styles to create a project that had a somewhat consistent theme.
The soundtrack is essentially a compilation album so expecting it to be completely coherent was a reach at best. While the range of voices included in the project are not necessarily addressing the same topic, there is clearly a common thread that I can appreciate.
While the soundtrack as a whole was amazing, it would be ignorant to conclude that it is without issue. The most notable issue was the failure to embrace non-American black artists more widely. It has been argued that the album missed an opportunity to shed to a light on black musicians on a more global scale, particularly in the context of African artists. Out of a total of 23 artists only 4 were from Africa. Even then the African artists featured were all from South Africa which is a problem in and of itself as there is a clear lack of representation here.
As a soundtrack built around a film that celebrates African heritage it would have been nice to see a tangle portrayal of this on the track list.
Regardless of the critique it is clear that this is a soundtrack that will continue to be enjoyed by the masses and rightly so.
It’s rare to find so many big names on the same project with such a high standard. Was every track a number 1 hit? No! But this project’s level of creativity, its social and its perhaps political message and depiction of the themes discussed by the movie is truly a work of art.
Despite it’s short comings I appreciate it for its artistry and will continue to do so.
The question that remains is will you be doing the same?