The Lowdown: Marvel’s Black Panther takes place in the fictional African nation Wakanda — a place whose culture is both deeply spiritual and known for being the most technologically advanced on Earth. The soundtrack blends different genres and emotional motivations to duplicate that dichotomy, mostly to great effect.
The Good: Kendrick Lamar evokes Black Panther’s quiet intensity on the title track and later captures his unchecked aggression on “Opps”, featuring scene-stealing verses from Vince Staples and South African artist Yugen Blakrok. Wakanda is also a world that features several strong black women in important roles, so “I Am”, Jorja Smith’s ode to bravery in the face of those who would attempt to shame and silence them, is a beautiful anchor for the middle of the album.
The Bad: The handful of direct references to the movie — Kendrick proclaims “I Am T’Challa” on the title track and references the character Erik Killmonger on two other songs — feel tossed off and arbitrary. Then again, they’ll make more sense once the credits roll.
The Verdict: Throughout the history of modern black cinema, there’s been as much precedence placed on the soundtrack as what’s actually projected on the silver screen. Though informed by the blaxploitation soundtracks of the ‘70s and the label-driven hip-hop soundtracks of the ‘90s, Black Panther: The Album is very much of its time: a well-produced and incredibly cohesive album with the loose swagger of a curated playlist.