"I got loyalty, got royalty inside my DNA." That's the first line Kendrick Lamar raps on his Grammy-winning 2017 masterpiece DAMN.
Black Panther can relate.
King of the fictional African country Wakanda, Black Panther made his first appearance in "Captain America: Civil War" and will become the first black superhero to headline his own Marvel Studios movie when "Black Panther" opens on Feb. 16.
Marvel tapped Kendrick Lamar to spearhead the soundtrack to its latest blockbuster and the pairing feels as natural as King T'Challa slipping into his vibranium catsuit. Lamar's current status as the undisputed king of rap makes him rap royalty and his thoughtful, probing lyrics frequently hit listeners like a roundhouse kick.
The "Black Panther" soundtrack was released today and it's every bit as good as fans could have hoped (apparently, so is the movie, which currently boasts a 98% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes). Here are five highlights:
Kendrick Lamar and SZA - "All The Stars"
The album's first single, this collaboration between the TDE labelmates is actually one of the weaker songs on the soundtrack. However, the video for the song is absolutely spectacular, with Dave Meyers and the little homies (Kendrick's directorial pseudonym) crafting one indelible image after the next. From Kendrick setting sail like an African George Washington over a sea of outstretched arms to his prowl through a charred forest with a pride of literal black panthers, "All The Stars" is yet another strong entry into his already iconic music video cannon.
Vince Staples and Yugen Blakrok - "Opps"
When Marvel premiered a new trailer for the movie following Kendrick's halftime performance at the College Football National Championship in January, sharp-eared fans were quick to point out the new Vince Staples song soundtracking the spot. Although Kendrick appears on the hook (as he does on nearly every song here), the booming song is actually credited to Staples and the South African rapper Yugen Blakrok. All the artists are in top form but Blakrok gets the best line: "Stand behind my own bars like a seasoned criminal/ Gotham City streets, I'll play the *BLEEP*" Censoring out a DC Comics villain (presumably The Riddler) on a soundtrack to a Marvel movie is some next level trolling.
Ab-Soul, Anderson .Paak and James Blake - "Bloody Waters"
As "ELEMENT" and "Life Round Here" proved, the right rapper can sound amazing when paired with James Blake's evocative beats. Although Blake doesn't receive a production credit on "Bloody Waters" (it was produced by longtime TDE beatmaker Sounwave, Kimbra collaborator Robin Hannibal and Kendrick himself), the beat is redolent of his signature style. It's also fascinating to hear Anderson .Paak bring his distinct raspy croon to a song much grittier than his own music.
Jay Rock, Kendrick Lamar, Future and James Blake - "King's Dead"
From Kenrick to SZA to ScHoolboy Q to Ab-Soul, nearly the entire TDE roster turns up on the Black Panther Soundtrack and Jay Rock is no exception (in fact, "King's Dead" doubles as the first single from his upcoming album). But as is the case with nearly every song he appears on, Kendrick steals the show with his ferocious verse, which he memorably brought to life at his recent show-opening Grammy performance.
The Weeknd and Kendrick Lamar - "Pray For Me"
The final song on the album, "Pray For Me" is quintessential Weeknd in the contrast between its snarling beat and his buttery vocals. As he does throughout the soundtrack, Kendrick uses superhero jargon as a jumping off point to explore his own internal battles and those within the culture as a whole (the ability to find an expressive metaphor to transmogrify his own thoughts and struggles into something more universal has always been Kendrick's superpower). In the same way that "Black Panther" fits into the larger MCU while retaining its own style and sensibility, the Black Panther Soundtrack feels like a Kendrick Lamar album despite its many guests. With his ability to rule over others, Kendrick has royalty in his DNA, alright. Long live the King.