Review Summary: give me a run for my money
Maybe Black Panther: The Album
was an optimistic title. There are no moments on Top Dawg Entertainment's soundtrack that earn the distinction: the music doesn't flow, segue or really make much of an impression, other than a series of passable cuts for a passable movie. Black Panther: The B-Sides
would've been fairer.
Still, some points go to Lamar for effort. Where good kid, m.A.A.d
city was held together by a watertight narrative flow, To Pimp a Butterfly
by its lofty poetic ambitions and DAMN.
by, uh, religion or something, Black Panther
is the first time Kendrick's really made his voice the lynchpin of the whole affair. He shows up on pretty much every song, contributing a quick hook here and blending into the beat there, only occasionally stretching his vocal cords to rap a full verse. It almost works, except that both vocals and songs are just kinda there. He drops some semi-interested rhymes over truly listless production on big and bland singles "All the Stars" and "Pray for Me", while the collaboration with Travis Scott is rushed for release at best and straight up lazy at worst. "King's Dead" fares a little better with an electric Jay Rock verse and Future's... moment, but that's the exception to the rule: Zacari doesn't work half as well over thumping bass production as he did gliding over the pristine glimmer of "LOVE.", and the otherwise thrilling "Paramedic!" shoots itself in the foot with a painfully abrupt ending.
The music on this soundtrack was written for a theoretical movie, one where the high-octane action and political intrigue of Civil War found a tradeoff with genuine cultural representation. Black Panther is not that movie, and as a result The Album
feels unmoored from its parent project, an overblown and often ham-fisted affair where subtle ideas of the responsibilities and cyclical failures of family are trampled by armoured rhino attacks and Martin Freeman blowing some shit up. No matter how coldly Vince Staples rides the beat on "Opps" or how beautifully Anderson .Paak and James Blake battle for a halfway point between summer and winter on "Bloody Waters", nothing coheres and nothing fits. This is an album of songs for a big idea before it was shrunken down and packed into the blockbuster money machine, and its well-intentioned attempt at bringing legitimacy to Marvel leaves Lamar and co. alone on a podium, broadcasting their passions through a megaphone to kids who just came to see superheroes do some backflips.