Black Panther: The Album review: Kendrick Lamar curates this worthy companion to the film


By now it’s no surprise that Black Panther is a worldwide cultural phenomenon. It received massive critical acclaim with many praising as one of the best films in the MCU and the superhero genre in general. It broke several box office records and is fast on track to making $1 billion in just 3 weeks since its release. It’s also no surprise that Kendrick Lamar is on the soundtrack. What is surprising however is that Kendrick Lamar along with his record label, Top Dawg Entertainment (TDE), founder Anthony Tiffith curated and executively produced the album. The album features many of Kendrick’s fellow artists signed to TDE including SZA, Schoolboy Q, Ab-Soul, Jay Rock and Zacari but excluding Isaiah Rashad, SiR and Lance Skiiiwalker. Kendrick was initially only going to work on a few songs for the film, but after he watched a majority of the film, he decided to create the album which he mostly recorded while touring DAMN. (his latest album) around North America.

This soundtrack album can be classified as a solo Kendrick album in the same way as Prince’s Batman (1989) soundtrack is regarded as a Prince album. Kendrick is credited on all fourteen tracks on the album however he only features heavily on five tracks while making minor contributions to the rest of the album. So while the album can be seen as a Kendrick Lamar project it can’t be judged to the same high standards of his studio concept albums. But DAMN if the album isn’t also so good. Kendrick absolutely works well within the limitations of the album and makes it a unique, fresh-sounding and energetic companion piece to the biggest film of 2018 so far and one of the biggest Black cultural events in recent memory. The title track “Black Panther” immediately sets the tone for the album. We hear the sounds of matches being struck and ominous whispering and Kendrick begins to rap “King of my city, king of my country, king of my homeland / King of the filthy, king of the fallen, we livin’ again / King of the shooters, looters, boosters, and ghettos poppin’.” Kendrick makes the song relevant to themes of the film whilst simultaneously relating it to themes in his own personal music – the gang warfare going on in the streets of Compton. Of course, the film is partly set in Oakland, California a city suffering from similar issues making it relevant.

“All The Stars” the lead single from the album featuring SZA is one of only three tracks actually featured in the film, the others being “Opps” and “Pray for Me.” I’ll admit at first I was very lukewarm on the track. I thought the production by Sounwave was too poppy and that Kendrick’s lyrics weren’t his sharpest. I still think SZA absolutely outshines Kendrick on this track, as other collaborators do on this album, and I now love the production. The pulsating beat, subtle sounds, orchestrated strings it sounds incredibly beautiful. When I saw the music video, a visually inventive treat celebrating the diverse cultures in Africa it finally clicked. SZA’s hook is an absolute earworm and the song is so catchy. The album is chock full of bangers. “X” featuring Schoolboy Q, 2 Chainz and Saudi sounds far too good for an album soundtrack. Although Kendrick has a verse he allows his guests to take the spotlight with Schoolboy Q delivering the best verse. On “Opps” he delivers a great verse backed by pounding West African drums, Vince Staples gives a punchy short verse but South African rapper Yugen Blakrok steals the show with her biting flow and hoarse aggressive voice.

Tracks such as “The Ways”, “I Am”, “Redemption Interlude” and “Redemption” along with “All The Stars” are the poppier tracks on the album but the production is still excellent. “The Ways” features pop singer, Khalid, and Rae Sremmurd member Swae Lee who both harmonise with sweet vocals. “I Am” features British breakthrough artist Jorja Smith who adds a British soul flair to the album. “Redemption” and “Redemption Interlude” both feature Zacari with the interlude featuring South African singer Babes Wodumo. “Paramedic!” features California Bay Area group SOB x RBE who dominate the track with unique regional flows and cadences while Kendrick plays background. Kendrick’s hook is however infectious “I wish a nigga would / I wish a nigga would, I wish a nigga would / I wish a bitch would.” “King’s Dead” features James Blake, Jay Rock as well as Kendrick of course. While I really enjoy both Kendrick and Jay Rock’s verses I absolutely love Future’s for how hilariously absurd his falsetto singing of “La di da di da, slob on me knob” is. This album is not only great as a soundtrack album connecting the themes of the film but works as an album on its own. Kendrick Lamar and his collaborators have created a very diverse album full of fresh sounds, bangers and pop tracks, popular and unknown rappers, local West Coast and American and South African artists. As he continues to push boundaries Kendrick Lamar has raised the standards for future soundtrack albums.

Black Panther review: Afro-futurist film is a game-changer in the MCU and superhero genre

It’s finally here! I remember when I first saw T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), the Black Panther in Captain America: Civil War (2016). I was completely blown away. When it was announced he would star in his own film I was so excited. I eagerly anticipated the release of this film. It seemed like the longest wait ever. Then a trailer was released in July 2017 and I began to get really hyped. Since July last year until just before I saw the film I was constantly anticipating its release. With every new trailer, still and poster I got excited. And now it’s finally here. Again I was blown away. I was speechless after seeing it. Black Panther (2018) deserved all the hype and more, it far exceeded my already very high expectations. I absolutely loved it!

The character of Black Panther first appeared in an issue of the Fantastic Four in July 1966. Black Panther was the first Black superhero in mainstream American comics. Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby (two white guys), T’Challa was a symbol of anti-racism during the peak of civil rights movement. The character predates the radical black nationalist/socialist organisation, The Black Panther Party, by a few months and the name was purely coincidental. In fact, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby tried to distance themselves from people associating the character with the party by briefly renaming him Black Leopard. Not only was Black Panther a black superhero but an African superhero the character was so important for Black representation but at the same time also problematic. With the first adaptation of Black Panther finally, on the big screen, director Ryan Coogler and co-writer, Joe Robert Cole, made some important changes to the character and story for modern Black audiences.

Black Panther begins a week after the events of Civil War. In Civil War, T’Challa was introduced, for the first time on screen, as the noble prince of Wakanda. Wakanda is a fictional country located in East Africa. After a bomb kills his father, King T’Chaka (John Kani), T’Challa as heir to the throne of Wakanda is set to become the king and the new Black Panther, a role each new monarch takes. The first shots of the film are breath-taking. There is a CGI depiction of the history of Wakanda. It shows how the different tribes went to war over a meteorite containing vibranium. Vibranium, the fictional metal, has incredible powers and has made Wakanda the richest and most technologically advanced nation on Earth. However, to the rest of the world, Wakanda is just another poor African nation full of suffering people because it hides in plain sight to avoid outside interference. The film draws clear parallels with real-world history. The history of imperialism and colonialism and how African nations have been colonised, plundered, had its people kidnapped, killed, its resources drained and continues to suffer from the effects of colonialism and neo-colonialism. The film also draws on the history of decolonisation and Black revolutionary movements in the 20th century with sub-Saharan African nations gaining independence from colonial powers, African-American political movements, the rise and fall of revolutionary African leaders and military dictatorships. Early in the film, there’s a scene where T’Challa and Okoye (Danai Gurira) the leader of the Dora Milaje fighting force, extract his ex-lover Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) from an undercover assignment so she can attend his coronation ceremony. There’s a visual reference to the Chibok girls who were kidnapped by terrorist organisation Boko Haram in Nigeria in 2014 with the kidnapped girls in the car dressed in hijabs.

The film follows T’Challa as he becomes King of Wakanda and the new Black Panther. He struggles with the enormous new responsibility as ruler of a wealthy African nation. The central conflict of the film arises when he is rivalled and challenged by Erik Stevens (Michael B. Jordan) also known as Killmonger who does not agree with Wakanda’s isolationism. Coogler, who also directed Fruitvale Station (2013) and Creed (2015) both featuring Michael B. Jordan, has a unique vision. He ties in his hometown of Oakland, California into the film as the city where Killmonger grew up. The minor changes from the comics help to enhance its story because despite it being a big budget blockbuster it’s also a very personal film. In interviews, both Ryan Coogler and Chadwick Boseman have talked about wanting the film to be as authentically African as possible. As African-Americans, they have been disconnected from their roots and both went to visit several countries in the continent to discover more about cultures from the continent they’re descended from. The character of Killmonger, brilliantly played by Michael B. Jordan, is in a way a proxy for African-Americans. Although he is an antagonist and may be described as a villain because he’s in opposition to the hero’s goal the great thing about his characterisation is that his motives are complex.

The film looks absolutely gorgeous. It is shot by Rachel Morrison, the first woman ever to be nominated for an Oscar for best cinematography, and it’s one of the most beautiful films I’ve ever seen. The beautiful black skin of the actors glow and pop in the lighting. From the extreme long shots of the rolling hills on the outskirts of Wakanda to the snowy mountains where the ostracised Jabari tribesmen reside to the Utopian afro-futurist landscape of Wakanda everything in this film looks absolutely gorgeous. It’s distinctly African and modern. And there’s plenty of eye candy. What a cast. Chadwick Boseman is fantastic as T’Challa, regal and stoic, while he’s not the most interesting character Boseman plays him very well. Michael B. Jordan is perfect as Erik Killmonger, one of the best performances of a villain (or antagonist), up there with Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker in The Dark Knight (2008). It’s a very difficult performance to pull off he is ruthless and violent in his methods but charming at the same time. As we learn about his backstory he becomes more sympathetic. While I love both their performances. My favourite characters had to be Shuri (Letitia Wright) and M’Baku (Winston Duke). Shuri is the younger sister of Black Panther and the source of much of the film’s comedic moments. The film has the perfect balance of humour and drama and never overdoes it. It’s better not to spoil the lines but the audience I saw it laughed whenever she was on screen. M’Baku is just the best. The leader of the tribesman he’s inexplicably the only character with a Nigerian accent compared to the rest of the cast’s South African leading to hilarious line readings I won’t spoil.

You don’t need to have seen other films in the MCU to understand this film, it works perfectly on its own. Other than T’Challa, T’Chaka and Ayo (Florence Kasumba) the only other characters we’ve previously seen are the token white guys in this film, Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) a South African arms dealer who works with Killmonger and Everett K. Ross (Martin Freeman) a CIA agent who T’Challa brings to Wakanda after he saves Nakia’s life. It has an absolutely stellar cast of Black actors from across the diaspora. Oscar-nominated, Daniel Kaluuya as W’Kabi, Angela Bassett as Ramonda, Forest Whitaker as Zuri, Sterling K. Brown as N’Jobu and so on. The music is also excellent. The original score was composed by Ludwig Göransson, who mixes West African drum rhythms, South African vocals and different sounds from the continent. In addition, the costume design is exquisite drawing from many different cultures across the continent. Black Panther if you’d excuse the pun is a marvel. A fresh and updated adaptation of the first Black superhero for modern audiences, it is very important for representation to see a Black superhero as the protagonist of his own film. We’ve had films like Blade (1998) and Hancock (2008) in the previous two decades but those were anti-heroes and nothing on this scale, of this magnitude and spectacle. It is in my opinion by far the best film in the MCU yet and one of the best superhero films ever.

Kendrick Lamar at the O2 review: the king makes a stunning return to London on the biggest stage

By now you should be familiar with how much of a superstar Kendrick Lamar is. If you aren’t, where have you been? His latest album DAMN. was both critically acclaimed and his most commercially successful yet including his first number one single as a lead artist “HUMBLE.” and was Billboard’s Year-End number one album of 2017. He won four out of seven Grammys he was nominated for at this year’s ceremony making a total of twelve Grammys under his belt. He is the undisputed king of hip-hop and he proved it to a crowd of 20, 000 adoring fans this Tuesday at the O2 arena in London. Coming off the back of the massive success that DAMN. had Kendrick couldn’t stop there. He had been working on the official Black Panther soundtrack album while touring DAMN. around North America, which he curated and executive produced and appears on most of the tracks. The hype was real.

I’m a huge Kendrick fan. Like embarrassingly huge. Like I’ve had him as my phone wallpaper for months. Like I cried the first time I saw him perform live. I first saw him in 2015, he didn’t tour To Pimp a Butterfly but he did make festival rounds. I caught him at Leeds Festival and I was blown away by how much of an incredible experience it was. To Pimp a Butterfly is still my favourite album, ever. For the Leeds Festival performance, he had a live band and they sounded so great. When I saw him again at British Summer Time Festival it was a similar experience not as emotional but an even better performance. Third time lucky because he gave the best performance that I’ve seen live on Tuesday, the second date of a two-day London stop on the European leg of The DAMN. Tour. DAMN. has a much more minimalist approach in its production than To Pimp a Butterfly. That isn’t to say the production isn’t also incredible but whereas To Pimp a Butterfly had jazz and funk production and live instrumentation the production on DAMN. is much more stripped back and bass-heavy. There was no live band or DJ on stage just Kendrick.

Supporting Kendrick was James Blake who had collaborated with Kendrick on “ELEMENT.” and the recently released track from the Black Panther soundtrack “King’s Dead.” I missed most of James Blake but I managed to get to my seat and catch a couple of songs. I wasn’t too gutted as I had already seen James Blake headline Field Day Festival in 2016. When James Blake finished his set the anticipation was palpable. A huge black curtain with the words “DAMN. THE DAMN. TOUR” covered the stage and fans eagerly hurried to their seats. Before long the curtains lifted and on a large screen on stage played the short film which accompanied the album “The Legend of Kung Fu Kenny.” A slightly tongue-in-cheek take on Chinese martial arts films featuring Kendrick as a Kung Fu warrior on a quest it played at different times during the set. Kendrick appeared on stage resplendent in a regal white robe looking angelic, godly even. He began with a bang performing the fiery “DNA.” a track which blew my mind when I first heard it. He didn’t quite match the studio version considering the vocal effects and editing involved in making that track a Molotov cocktail but he spat the bars with incredible dexterity and breath control.

The set was expertly constructed. There were brief interludes where pre-recorded vocals repeated “ain’t nobody praying for me” a recurring line on the album. He didn’t just perform tracks from DAMN. he also performed “Goosebumps” a track he features on by Travis Scott and “Collard Greens” by label-mate ScHoolboy Q. He also performed songs from his back catalogue including “King Kunta”, “Backseat Freestyle” and “Money Trees.” For “FEEL.” He simply had a performer dressed as a ninja with a blade performing incredible dances moves to the instrumental. When that ended he appeared on another stage, the golden circle, and performed “LUST.” with lucky fans surrounding him, while he performed the stage rose and a cage formed around him. For one of my favourite tracks on DAMN., “PRIDE.” he performed on the main stage but lying down on the stage. My favourite moment of the entire night, however, was after he performed “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe.” The energy in the crowd was at its peak and the entire arena erupted in woos, cheers, applause and shouts. It lasted for several minutes, Kendrick watching on stage in awe. Every time I’ve seen Kendrick he seems incredibly humble you know he still can’t believe he’s performing in front of 20, 000 thousands of miles from his hometown. He expressed his gratitude calling London “his second home.” The set concluded with “Alright”, my personal favourite track by him and “HUMBLE.” which he had the crowd perform the hook and then performed it a second time. What an end to the night…but wait no, not without an encore performance of “GOD.” He absolutely commanded the crowd on that night. The king’s not dead he’s very much alive and the greatest living rapper.