Like millions of others this past weekend, I made my way to the movie theater to take in “Black Panther”, a truly beautiful film. There’s no questioning the cultural significance of Black Panther’s arrival on the big screen, and although the long wait for such a film was absurd, it’s exciting and satisfying to see director Ryan Coogler and the cast handle the story with such care and power.
The track record of everyone involved in the film is one of excellence, so in many ways, it was delightfully fitting when Kendrick Lamar was announced to be handling the soundtrack earlier this year. The single that proceeded the release, “All the Stars” featuring SZA, was an immediate jam and set the stage for what was to come.
While I can’t say I’ve ever written about a soundtrack, I felt compelled to comment on Black Panther: The Album because it is easily my favorite release of 2018 so far, it’s another brilliant chapter in Kendrick Lamar’s ongoing dominance, and it speaks to the strength and beauty of the hip hop community to surround this film with a release of such magnitude.
After a few spins, I texted resident hip hop aficionado and podcast regular Brock Benefiel to question whether Kendrick might unexpectedly be vying for another hip hop title belt. While there’s no comparing Black Panther: The Album to recent solo releases like DAMN. or To Pimp a Butterfly, there’s certainly something to be said regarding Lamar’s gravity to draw in such a stellar supporting cast and his vision for a truly important project.
From The Weeknd to Vince Staples to Future to Jay Rock to Khalid to SZA, the album is unrelenting in star power and everyone’s voice shines. While the collection is meant to accompany the movie itself, and the placement of key songs within the film is excellent, it’s a compilation that stands alone just as well. It’s a soundtrack that could have been released under the guise of an unattached one-off project and its impact would still have felt relevant.
In early 2016, while we were all still digesting the scale and impact of To Pimp a Butterfly, Kendrick dropped Untitled Unmastered, a collection of unreleased songs that was met with immediate praise. Black Panther: The Album feels similar in a way – an unexpected but fully wonderful release that keeps Kendrick well in the zeitgeist and continues to solidify his status as an all-time great.
But perhaps even more important is that the soundtrack speaks to the great strengths of the hip hop community and why its music and voice are so vital.
Ryan Coogler knew full well the importance of this soundtrack and likely had little hesitation in handing the project to Kendrick Lamar. It’s a soundtrack of powerful black voices making a statement that couples well with the film while speaking to the heart of the genre. Whatever hip hop has in store for 2018, Black Panther: The Album was a truly unforgettable start.
by Kiel Hauck
Kiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.