BLACK PANTHER: THE ALBUM
Top Dawg/ Aftermath/ Interscope
In enlisting Kendrick Lamar to curate the music soundtrack for superhero flick Black Panther, Marvel Studios has hit upon a collection of songs as regal as the titular character.
King Kendrick, as the celebrated Compton rapper is known, cast his net far and wide to assemble a rich and diverse bunch of urban music collaborators.
Besides his own solo output, there are recent chart-toppers such as singer-songwriters The Weeknd and SZA, new critics' darlings Khalid and Anderson Paak as well as Lamar's old Black Hippy hip-hop supergroup compatriots, Ab-Soul, Jay Rock, and Schoolboy Q. There are also contributions from South African actBabes Wodumo and rapper Yugen Blakrok as well as English singer-producer James Blake.
Lamar, who picked up five gongs at last month's Grammy Awards for his fourth album Damn., takes on the Black Panther persona on the album opener and title track, putting himself in the shoes of T'Challa, the superhero/king of fictional African nation Wakanda.
Eight songs later, there is a satisfying balance as he turns the table and embodies the movie's nemesis, Killmonger, distilling the character's animosity in a few incisive verses.
While the track King's Dead features Rock, Blake and popular rapper Future, it is Lamar's adroit and wildly shifting flow that elevates the song beyond your usual hip-hop banger.
The supporting cast are given plenty of space to shine.
Moody track Seasons features impassioned vocals from South African artist Sjava, who switches effortlessly between Zulu and English.
On the album's most aggressive song, Paramedic!, Lamar anchors the chorus while letting young upstarts from hip-hop collective SOB x RBE assert themselves with some red-blooded proclamations.
Then there are the immersive slow jams, such as Khalid's laid-back yet fetching drawl on The Ways, which features mesmeric production from Lamar's regular producer Sounwave and jazz/hip-hop instrumentalists BadBadNotGood.
The chart-baiting singles - the uplifting All The Stars by Lamar and SZA and the spirited Pray For Me, by Lamar and The Weeknd - rise above their ranks with superior hooks and piercing verses.
Perhaps the album's most defining aspect is that it works on its own, with tunes that can be savoured as standalone songs or as a cohesive collection, and not just as mere accompaniment.