The Black Panther Soundtrack Is a Stunning Moment in Film History
A mere 30 seconds into the Black Panther soundtrack, it's already stunning to realize you're listening to a Marvel soundtrack. Over a gentle piano, Kendrick Lamar—the album's composer who's listed as a writer of every song—unleashes a breathless, statement of power:
King of my city, king of my country, king of my homeland
King of the filthy, king of the fallen, we living again
King of the shooters, looters, boosters, and ghettos poppin'
King of the past, present, future, my ancestors watchin'
The production surges into a technical Afrofuturist beat and back into the gentle piano. Not only are these topics unheard of in a Disney movie, but the sound and composition is as difficult as the content itself.
While the soundtrack itself weaves in some beautiful pop gems like "All the Stars" with SZA to mainstream hitters like The Weeknd's "Pray For Me," among these 14 songs are certain to be the most complex ever to be promoted by a Disney movie.
And though Lamar has writing credit on every song, this is by no means an expensive vanity project paid for by Disney. It features other big names like Weeknd, Future, Khalid, Travis Scott, Vince Staples, James Blake, Swae Lee, 2 Chainz, and Anderson .Paak. Lamar also hands the mic to a number of worthy upcoming names like SZA, Zacari, and even a number of South African musicians including vocalist Sjava singing in Zulu. One standout comes from Mozzy, an emerging Sacramento rapper, who is certainly unfamiliar to the Disney crowd. Take for example, part of the second verse where Mozzy raps:
I cried when lil' brotha died, got high and watched the sunrise
Wiggle on 'em if it's One Time, they done hung all of my people
I love all of my people, I'm in the slums with all of my people
They trynna tell us that we all equal
We gettin' no justice so it ain't peaceful, yeah
Think they bluffin', they ain't gon' beat you
Paid attorney, we gon' need it
In one breath he talks about the corrupt justice system, racism, classism, police brutality. Later, Jorja Smith gets her own beautiful ballad "I Am," where she sings the hook:
When you know what you got, sacrifice ain't that hard
Feel like depending on me, sometimes we ain't meant to be free.
And on "Opps," a more industrial track with Vince Staples and Yugen Blakrok, Lamar unleashes punk fury, rapping "Fuck y'all want from me, y'all don't own money." Later in the song, Staples adds, "They don't wanna see me sittin' in the Benz/They don't wanna see me livin' on the end."
Again, this is in a Disney movie, a Marvel movie that will likely make billions of dollars. That these topics can even be breached on a platform like this seems like progress might be possible. It's a moment of black representation that connects back to the title's origins and the soundtracks of Super Fly and Shaft. And though there's still a long way to go, the Black Panther soundtrack is an absolute milestone that will not be forgotten.
This story originally appeared on Esquire.com. Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.