by Jaylene Lopez
The soundtrack for Black Panther, the film that broke box office records when it was released, is and diverse mixture of trap, R&B, and experimental rap that expresses the immense influence of Black culture on music in America.
Kendrick Lamar’s intro, “Black Panther” proclaims his place in the music industry as “King.” This into to the album launches the overall theme of the soundtrack, the idea of Black culture as powerful, a moving force on the entire soundtrack. Lamar ends the track by claiming his throne as T’Challa, and also as Erik Killmonger, encompassing two significant powerful figures in the film. Lamar’s voice echoes through every track, a constant reminder of his place and a proclamation of his dominion.
“All The Stars,” the lead single for the record, where SZA sings the hook, “This may be the night my dreams might let me know, All the stars are closer.” SZA and Lamar collaborate on the track perfectly. The significance in this song being the title track is the need for guidance from stars or even ancestry, especially in a society that is so quick to limit opportunity for people of color.
Trap influences on the album are also prominent on tracks like “King’s Dead” and ‘Paramedic!” and “X” which all have heavy trap beats.
“Opps” is one of the most experimental tracks on the album, with heavy electronic influences, where Vince Staples’ influence shines through. “I am” by Jorja Smith and “The Ways” Khalid bring through the R&B influences on the album and “Seasons” brings out Jazz influence – all genres encompassing and influencing modern day music within one solid, eclectic album while also encompassing strong African influence.
Statements on the record hold the overall meaning of the project as a work through the perspective of people of color. “They ain’t wanna see me win ‘cause I’m Black, so I pulled up in an all Black Benz in the back,” exclaims Young T.O. on “Paramedic!” On The Ways, Khalid sings, “Power girl, I really wanna know your ways” which references the character Nakia, a spy and skilled fighter for Wakanda. On Seasons, Sjava raps in Zulu, “Bebathi ng’yophelel emoyeni, beba right, manje ngiy’nknayezi,” which roughly translates to, “They thought I’ll disappear into air, they are right, now I’m a star,” a proclamation of rising from oppression to stardom through African language. A verse from Mozzy on the same track proclaims, “Trapped in the system, traffickin’ drugs. Modern-day slavery, African thugs,” referencing modern day neo-slavery through the prison system.
Listening to this album is an experience that can only be had by a person of color, especially when paired with watching the film. Since many of the songs are a symbol of power, the scenes are more pronounced and resonate with you long after you leave the theater. As a woman of color, the sight of seeing powerful women fight against evil to music made for people of color, by people of color gives off so much emotion. It makes you feel as though you could conquer the world to the soundtrack.
“Opps” blaring through the theater while T’Challa and his group chase after their enemies is a triumphant scene in the movie, and could not have been well portrayed without the music that accompanied it. Hearing “All The Stars” after the movie ended, just before the final cutscenes, giave of a hopeful feeling for the future of representation of people of color in marvel movies, and film in general. SZA, an icon for women of color such as myself, has a voice of strength that could be parallel to the character Nakia, a powerful fighter, while Kendrick parallels to T’Challa as the king of Hip-Hop.
The overall theme is of this project is power and an indefinite reclamation of Black culture through music. In the age of hip-hop music being used as a tool for industry, commercial, and monetary gain by white record company owners, “Black Panther” is a humanization of the art that originates from Black people through early jazz music, the building blocks of most modern-day music genres. It is also a call for people of color in the film and in the music industry.
In times like this, an era of revolutionizing the way we view race and people of color, Black Panther is an extremely important staple to our generation. The film shows what people of color are made of, and the soundtrack just adds to the energy of the movie. Finally, a franchise, a movement, that encompasses the image of blackness as heroic, royal and breathtaking.