Did you really thing this was going to be an easy listen? The Black Panther soundtrack is not what you'd expect from a Disney fronted blockbuster. Kendrick Lamar has messages and tells stories. He is a highly innovative artist who has pushed the boundaries of his genre, changing his aesthetic and sonic output with each successive album. He is highly influential in music, fashion, and pop culture. While some might be feeling Kendrick fatigue, He's everything we need right now. The same goes for the Black Panther film that premieres this week (FINALLY!.) and the Black Panther/Kendrick Lamar pairing makes sense.
So many of these soundtracks are a totally phoned in cash grab. See Suicide Squad or Bright or even Daft Punk's Tron: Legacy. Even for albums where the aesthetic may not be my thing, you can tell when people are thoughtful about the content and creating a soundscape that makes sense for the project. Kendrick albums are among the few 'mainstream' hip hop albums these days that have an overall narrative or theme rather than being a random assortment of songs. The Black Panther film is becoming a cultural touchstone, even before its release. I can’t believe the sheer energy (good and bad) this is generating. I love it nonetheless.
The 14 track LP is filled with cohesive chemistry and composition that is as difficult as the content itself. This ain't an album full of singles, that's for sure. That's a good thing. A curated mix-tape that possesses that strange, uncanny, almost supernatural presence I associate with instant classics - the sort of album that gets picked apart for every detail, dissected over and over and ends up being a rare piece of art that completely lives up to the hype.
While, of course, the album will take multiple listens to fully appreciate, perhaps more, it's just about impossible for a great album to reveal itself entirely upon its first few listens…sometimes, at least for me, with some instantly classic records I just know. I know, innately - and most of the time after the first or second listen - that I'll still be talking about that work not only at the end of the year but probably at the end of the decade and beyond. This one did it for me.
So far, the standouts are: Opps, Bloody Waters, X, and King's Dead. Not trying to pigeonhole the sound of the project. However, Mark Spears a.k.a Sounwave's production is on some sample flips straight from the record store dollar bins that give you that feeling of recording a demo over the top of some dime-a-dozen pop superstars cassette tape. It is a perpetual state of forward motion with no regard for any rules or norms. Sounwave doesn't follow trends, he sets them with no real sonic signature. His stage name, adopted from the Transformers figure that disguises itself as a micro-cassette recorder, Mark Spears along with the TDE roster are transforming hip-hop.
Hip hop music is more exciting now than it has been in decades. If you asked me two years ago where the genre would be today, I would never have guessed that we'd be getting a Black Panther soundtrack that doesn't offer easy answers. To me that makes it a lot more compelling. I can’t wait to see what kind of movie this music inhabits. Just listening through the tracks, you have to wrap your mind around the fact that the soundtrack alone is unlike anything ever put in a superhero movie. Just imagine the story and world that this will flow through. The future is here. Bring it on.
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