The word is good!: “Black Panther” album brings out the big shots

(Top Dawg Entertainment)

With the strike of a match and an intense crescendo of strings, leading to a cut to silence and a light piano melody tinged with sadness, Kendrick Lamar sets the tone immediately on his curated collaboration album, released Feb. 9 to accompany Marvel’s smash hit “Black Panther.”

Whatever you thought yourself in for, now is the time to start changing your mind.

The first track on the 14-song collaboration, titled “Black Panther,” finds Lamar comparing his own position as a superstar from Compton, California to that of T’Challa, the powerful young king of Wakanda, portrayed in the film by Chadwick Boseman: “King of my city, king of my country, king of my homeland.”

An uplifting horn section fades this song into the pounding beat of “All the Stars,” vocally driven by SZA, singing the chorus, “This may be the night that my dreams might let me know / All the stars are closer, all the stars are closer.”

While Lamar may want to “talk about love,” as he raps on “All the Stars,” several of the songs take on a more hardened, sinister approach. A good example is “Paramedic,” a slapping salutation to the streets of Northern California.

Lamar kicks the track off aggressively before passing the mic to Bay Area super group SOB x RBE. The four-member rap squad, led by rappers Yhung T.O. and Slimmy B, sound right at home, almost jostling each other to get at the mic, alternating between harsh bars and minimally autotuned singing, which fit in nicely on the song. Yhung T.O. sings in verse four, “I was raised by my grannie and the gangsters, / So at 8 I made the choice I’ma forever be a G.”

One of the most interesting parts of the album I noticed after seeing the film last Friday was the integration of the album’s music into the film itself. One of the signature sounds on many songs was a low, suspenseful plucking noise, which was also used to build tension or transition between scenes in the movie.

Further, many scenes featured songs from the album in the background. For instance, during a party scene in the film, the album’s closing track, “Pray for Me,” featuring Toronto megastar The Weeknd, can be heard softly setting the mood while the action takes place.

Another scene, a high-speed car chase, utilizes the intense, bass-driven track “Opps,” featuring Vince Staples and Yugen Blakrok, a female emcee from Eastern Cape, South Africa.

Blakrok, who considers herself a disciple of the golden era ’90s hip-hop, idolizing acts such as Wu-Tang Clan and A Tribe Called Quest, delivers one of the most thought-provoking and technically impressive verses on the album. She raps, “I move like a millipede / When I flex them tendons like rubber trees / Young Millie Jackson back to the s**t / Mouthpiece drawn, got a verbal armory…”

Just as the “Black Panther” film broke box office presale records, the album has seen plenty of its own success. Riding the number one spot on Billboard’s Hot 200 List through the weekend and selling 154,000 copies, according to Nielsen Music, “Black Panther” the album is poised to maintain that spot through its second week. This figure underestimates the album’s immediate pervasiveness, however, as Nielsen calculates much of the album’s success based on streams – which the songs have collectively accumulated over 190 million since its release.

This album, much like the film, is important because of its message and its diversity. By employing artists across genres and subgenres of hip-hop, R&B and pop, the album shows the representation of multiple voices can be, and should be, a formula for massive success.