Marvel At These 7 Facts About 'Black Panther: The Album' | Black History Month
Marvel's latest blockbuster motion picture Black Panther comes out on Feb. 16, and it's already shaping up to be one of the most anticipated films of the year. While certainly not the first comic book film to star a black superhero, the film's production team, cast and crew represent a historic elevation of black talent.
Director and co-writer Ryan Coogler's vision has brought together a spectacular group of actors and creators behind the film — and that extends to the soundtrack as well.
In the weeks leading up to the film's release, Black Panther: The Album has grown to occupy almost as much of the cultural zeitgeist as the movie itself, especially given the triplicate curatorial, artistic and production roles that multi-GRAMMY winner Kendrick Lamar took on in helming the project.
In light of the record-setting opening weekend that Black Panther is expecting, take a look at seven things you need to know about the Top Dawg Entertainment -showcasing soundtrack.
Make No Mistake, This Is A Kendrick Lamar Album
When Coogler originally approached Lamar, his best-case scenario hope was to convince the Compton, Calif., rapper to create a few songs for the soundtrack. "Eventually I caught up with him a couple years ago … and just spoke about much his music affected me," Coogler told NPR. "We said if the opportunity comes, we'd love to work with each other on something." However, once Coogler circled back last year to show off some of the footage, Lamar — then fresh from finishing his latest GRAMMY-winning LP, DAMN. — dove in and expressed interest in curating the full soundtrack album. The end result: While he is only officially credited as a featured artist on five of the album's 14 tracks, careful listeners will note that Lamar is vocally present on every single track on the album. He also co-wrote every track.
A Global Effort
While Coogler's casting and crew selection serve to publicly elevate some of the best talents in black cinema, so too does Lamar's soundtrack incorporate rising stars and established legends from both mainstream U.S. and niche international genres. To wit, the album as a whole incorporates artists from three continents, meandering through the sounds of stateside rap, London's particular brands of R&B and Afro-soul, as well as African pop music and gqom — an uptempo, stomp-heavy type of minimal house music similar to Chicago footwork that is currently sweeping through parts of South Africa. As Sheldon Pearce wrote for Pitchfork, "The album is a sampler of the film's broader vision of black excellence."
The Sonic Chemistry Is There
The oftentimes clear and present danger in merging a hotly anticipated major motion picture release with an all-star soundtrack is that the resulting music comes out as a schizophrenic mish-mash of styles and genres in an attempt to lure in fans from all sides. Thankfully, whether it is Khalid and Swae Lee pairing sooth R&B hooks with professionally-spit trap verse work, or Babes Wodumo bringing gqom vibes to match Lamar's "secret weapon" Zacari's trademark airy vocal rhythms, sonic dysfunction is not the case with Black Panther: The Album. As Craig Jenkis at Vulture pointed out, "[The album] recognizes that the key to a good soundtrack is good chemistry, not just noteworthy names, but for good measure, it delivers on both."
Lamar Checks One Off The List
Respect to all the artist/producers that allowed me to execute a sound for the soundtrack.
The concept of producing and composing a project other than my own has always been ideal
I appreciate the experience love ones
Continue to be great
— Kendrick Lamar (@kendricklamar) February 11, 2018
There's a clear case to be made that Lamar is a true musical auteur. Across his three most recent solo artist albums — each an instant classic in its own right — his control of the interpolation between rhythm, narrative, vocal flow, and social context has developed in a manner that denotes clear artistic intent of each piece. In relating the history of To Pimp A Butterfly, co-engineer/mixer Derek "MixedByAli" Ali revealed, "[Kendrick] incorporated everything that was going on [in Africa] and in his life to complete a million-piece puzzle." Meanwhile, Lamar explained that his follow-up album, DAMN., was "all pieces of me." In following repeated successful artistic achievements, there is surely a desire to flex and extend the limits of one's craft, and in recent days Lamar has revealed that the chance to helm a musical project as an outside producer and artist has long been a secret goal of his. So consider the Black Panther soundtrack one more item to check of his bucket list.
A Victory Lap For TDE
— TOP DAWG #TDE (@dangerookipawaa) January 4, 2018
With an impressive collection of 14 nominations and six GRAMMY wins brought home at the 60th GRAMMY Awards between Lamar, SZA and label head Anthony "Top Dawg" Tiffith, 2017 was a banner year for TDE. And 2018 is already shaping up to be an equally strong follow-up. On top of their forthcoming Championship Tour, set for summer 2018, TDE's role in the Black Panther soundtrack makes it a showcase of sorts for the label's top talents. With strong showings from label signees Ab-Soul, Jay Rock and ScHool Boy Q, as well as SZA and Lamar, the soundtrack tees up a collection of great new tracks for the group to break out on tour, signaling a clear win for the label.
Ludwig Göransson's African Sojourn
Prior to bringing in Lamar to the project, Coogler contracted composer Ludwig Göransson — who contributed heavily to Childish Gambino's Album Of The Year GRAMMY-nominated "Awaken, My Love!" — to assist with the film's orchestral scoring. Göransson's close collaboration with Lamar and Tiffith on the soundtrack's separate production made for a skillful merging of his orchestral compositions with much of the album's more pop-oriented arrangements (most noticeable on the album's opening track, "Black Panther"). The Swedish producer also revealed to Pitchfork that he needed to take time off to "research" and mentally prepare before diving into writing his contributions to the film's score and soundtrack. "It's such a massive movie," Göransson explains. "After I read the script and I started reading the comic, I knew the only way I could do this was to go to Africa and do research. I took a month off and traveled to Senegal."
Black Panther: The Album Is On Track To Debut At No. 1
Even as Black Panther the film is set to smash global box office records with an estimated $165 million opening weekend (which some analysts argue may even be a low-end estimate), Black Panther: The Album is fully expected to conquer the Billboard 200 and take the No. 1 slot, according to Billboard's own estimates. If the soundtrack accomplishes the chart feat, it will be the second official movie soundtrack to do so in 2018, ending the current reign of the score for the whimsical music film The Greatest Showman. Per Billboard's forecast, Black Panther: The Album is expected to bring home as many as 100,000 equivalent album units in its first week of sales — adding chart success on top of the soundtrack's winning combination of musical accomplishment, star power and cultural momentum.