The TDE logo on the back of an album is a reminder that this was overseen by some of hip hops giants and that what is within will meet certain expectations. This logo is half of what aided in the building of such large expectations for this new Black Panther soundtrack. The other half was its link to one of the biggest movies so far this year.
Of course, it helped that the artists listed happened to be some of the biggest artists in rap. Kendrick Lamar and TDE CEO Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith put out their best resources on this project. Sadly, the result is an album with a couple energetic bangers mixed in with a handful of forgettable or mediocre songs and the rare catchy R&B track.
The record’s main problems lie in the track ordering. It loses valuable momentum in the shift from the California banger “Paramedic!” to the tropical, awkward sounding “Bloody Waters” only to bring us back to the intense “King’s Dead.” The energy of “Redemption” fizzles as we switch to the smooth, dark tones of “Seasons.” That being said, there isn’t an individual song on the record that doesn’t have a strong moment in it. “Bloody Waters” redeems its boring, sunny instrumental through Ab-Soul’s clever bars. The deep bass of Khalid’s voice is able to carry “The Ways” first half despite Swae Lee’s robotic drone on the second.
What the record and its contributors seem to master is energy. “X” grabs you with Kendrick’s chanting chorus and ScHoolboy Q’s husky, authoritative voice. Vince Staples and Yugen Blakrok ride the hectic beat on “Opps” into a sound reminiscent of Staples latest project. And yet none of this touches “King’s Dead,” an unrelenting posse cut that only escalates from verse to verse, culminating finally in the sinister line: “All hail King Killmonger.”
The same praise isn’t earned by some of the other more forgettable songs. Any excitement for a collaboration as sweet as 2016’s “Goosebumps,” one of the most popular tracks on Travis Scott’s last album, dies upon hearing “Big Shot.” The instrumental comes off as far too pop-rap despite the song not being pop-rap enough to be catchy. Similar things can be said about “Bloody Waters” and “Pray for Me,” though the latter fails more due to the weaknesses it shares with The Weeknd’s last record.
In the end, it becomes important to recognize that this is not a Kendrick record. This is a Black Panther soundtrack. In being a soundtrack for a major film, it does a decent job of crafting a sound that is accessible to a mainstream audience while also capturing the films spirit. Songs like “All the Stars” with its outstanding performance by SZA are a great example of this. It is 14 tracks curated by raps heaviest hitters, but it is a record made for the charts.