Lamar links past themes to Black Panther album
The latest Marvel movie, Black Panther, features the quote “In times of crisis, the wise build bridges, while the foolish build barriers.” It is unsurprising, with language like this, that Black Panther: The Album — a collection of music based on and inspired by the Marvel film — would fit as well as it does into a sense of modern cultural awareness.
The album was produced by Kendrick Lamar, a very significant person when it comes to black social movements, having made statements throughout his music performances in events as big as the Grammys.
Black Panther: The Album embodies many themes Lamar frequently uses in his work: spirituality and cultural awareness, the Black Lives Matter movement and the racism still relevant in modern society. The album addresses these issues with less filter than Black Panther, which is still essentially a family film. Black Panther: The Album was allowed to be as loud as its producers wanted, purposefully delivering a message.
Firstly, Lamar purposely put various African artists on the album, giving them the chance to define its sound. The album also contained many artists speaking Zulu, the official language of South Africa. In the song “King’s Dead,” Lamar seems to take the side of Killmonger, the antagonist of Black Panther when he states “Who am I?... not your equal/ Not the title y’all want me under/ All hail King Killmonger.” This parallels the scene in the movie where Killmonger seemingly kills T’Challa, the king and titular hero, in a duel and takes the throne of the fictional kingdom Wakanda for himself. This was one of the few songs that correlated directly with the movie, along with “Pray For Me” by Lamar and The Weeknd in which they sing “Rapture is coming’/ It’s all prophecy and if I gotta be sacrificed for the greater good/ Then that’s what it gotta be.” This line especially shows the struggle of Killmonger, who wants to take the throne to share Wakanda’s technology with oppressed people around the world. He wants to use technology to provide weapons of revenge, in contrast to an alternative view of providing aid for Black people around the world. This sets up a conflict similar to that between Martin Luther King Jr.’s and Malcolm X’s methods of protest.
Another point of view is provided with some chance lines from “Seasons” by Mozzy, Sjava and Reason: “They tryna tell us that we all equal/ We get no justice so it ain’t peaceful…Trapped in the system, traffickin’ drugs/ Modern-day slavery, African thugs/ We go to war for this African blood.”
These lyrics speak to both the problems Killmonger wants to get rid of, as well as to claims of systemic racism enforced by the American government through problems with drugs, gun violence and the jail system.
Many of the songs on Black Panther: The Album visualize the struggle against racism and stereotypes. The album is a culturally timeless project that mixes rap, R&B and reggae, while simultaneously making listeners proud of their roots and saying much about the black experience in modern times.