I take sentimental liking to few movie soundtracks, but this one captivated me more than usual. Black Panther is the new marvel movie with entirely black characters, making it an important milestone in the fight for black representation in mainstream entertainment/Hollywood. This set of songs was curated by the members of Top Dawg Entertainment, meaning it’s packed with artists whose music I enjoy or have had my eye on. Which definitely made it feel essential to cover despite never having formally reviewed one before.
The singles leading up to the project left me with mixed feelings. All The Stars is great in theory seeing as SZA and Kendrick have such vocal chemistry. The problem is that their parts feel disconnected lyrically, making it feel conceptually vague on the whole/the most commercial of any other song on the soundtrack. But the more I listen to King’s Dead, the more it strikes me as one of the best. Kendrick and Jay Rock’s verses are about as compelling as the production (especially with the beat switch halfway through). Still, I can’t help but want an explanation for Future’s verse. Yes, it’s hilarious as a meme and I’m sort of glad it happened, but it’s objectively terrible and makes no sense. Pray for Me left me mostly uninterested, but The Weeknd’s vocals were a great addition to the track.
I was surprised by how stellar the production was when I heard the release in full. It could’ve easily been entirely trap (which we get some of in tracks like X), but there’s some r&b influence on I Am and the Ways, some soul on Seasons, some house/club on Redemption (which has a nice African twist to it). All of it meshed really nicely. It was also fitting to the culture of the movie that some verses were in Zulu, & the parts that did incorporate the language were especially compelling. The soundtrack follows the movie’s plot pretty closely while additionally working on its own, which I see as a standard others should strive to live up to. However, at times it feels slightly commercial and lacks genuine emotional depth. Luckily it’s not to the point where it ruins the whole experience, seeing as it still packs in enough interesting moments to make up for it.
The soundtrack’s high points really go hard; Opps’ racing tempo and distorted bass, echoing drums and chilling line of synths are pristine. The placement of Vince in the track couldn’t have been more perfect. Seasons’ woozy piano leads into a soulful chorus; Sjava’s verse in Zulu makes for a flawless beginning, and the rest of its lyrical strength carries my interest the whole way through. Another lyrical moment that blew me away was Ab-Soul’s wordplay on Bloody Waters; I didn’t know he had this in him but I’m pleased that he finally pulled through with something that’s left me particularly impressed.
Despite these highlights, a few verses on this album don’t have a great deal of substance. I can’t take much away from X; the lyrics don’t seem to be trying to impress in the first place, but the production didn’t hit hard enough to make up for it. Travis’ verse on Big Shot was entirely disappointing and the hook is weak and obnoxious. Which is a shame, considering it takes away from the nice addition of flutes in the instrumental.
Nevertheless, for the most part, the soundtrack is well put together. I enjoyed it more than I expected to, and it’s compelling digested with or without the movie. Its variety of influences carried my interest the whole way through, and in most cases the features add to the tracks instead of taking away from them. If you’re looking for a hip hop project with a wide range of sounds and ideas, this is a solid place to go.