Just in case you thought you couldn't be more excited for the movie Black Panther, Kendrick Lamar had to step in and make the soundtrack.
Marvel's latest was already destined to become the coolest-sounding superhero flick ever, what with its swaggering Run the Jewels-scored teaser trailer last summer. Now, the critically adored film has fulfilled that early promise with Black Panther: The Album (★★★½ out of four), out Friday, which is curated by Lamar and features some of his songs.
In the same-titled opening track, the rapper adopts the perspective of T'Challa, Wakanda's ruler and alter ego of Black Panther (played by Chadwick Boseman). Dexterously spitting bars over sparse piano plucks, Lamar touches on many of the same themes we've heard throughout his four-album catalog: touting the importance of community and activism, while drawing parallels to his own experience as the newly anointed "king" of hip-hop.
Other familiar subjects including loyalty, sacrifice and fame are mined on album highlights Pray for Me, his hypnotic second song with The Weeknd, and humble-bragging Travis Scott collaboration Big Shot, which features one of Lamar's most playful verses in years ("Mm, yeah, and I Wakanda flex," he muses, referencing T'Challa's fictional African kingdom).
Tribal rhythms, tropical house and throbbing R&B pulse throughout the 14-song, 50-minute album, which boasts reliable guest spots from Lamar's TDE labelmates SZA (on nondescript yet catchy lead single All the Stars) and Schoolboy Q (the hard-hitting X with 2 Chainz). But the unexpected treat is hearing the rap titan pass the baton to up-and-comers such as Zacari (the angelic crooner behind Damn sleeper Love, who runs away with the upbeat Redemption) and SOB x RBE (a Bay Area-based hip-hop collective that more than hold their own with Lamar on Paramedic!).
Black Panther is predicted to break box-office records, and with Lamar's muscle behind it, the film's companion album should claw its way to the top of Billboard charts as well. Audacious and unexpected, with a bevy of potential radio hits in its arsenal, this soundtrack proves that the rapper is equally at home behind the boards as he is in the recording booth.
Download: Opps, King's Dead, Pray for Me