Music Review

There's a lot of Africa missing from the 'Black Panther' soundtrack

Kendrick Lamar's 'Black Panther' companion album is a reflection of the African-American struggle, not African joy

25 February 2018 - 00:00
Everything rapper Kendrick Lamar touches turns to gold.
Everything rapper Kendrick Lamar touches turns to gold.
Image: AFP/TIMOTHY A. CLARY

At this point it is accepted wisdom that anything Kendrick Lamar touches turns to gold. If he put out a collection of cat warbles, it would probably be hailed as a beautifully experimental exploration of feline empowerment. Lamar's musical ear is just that good, which is why it is not surprising that the tender for curating and creating the "soundtrack" for Black Panther would go to him.

The reason "soundtrack" is flanked by sceptical quotation marks is because the Black Panther album is not really a soundtrack. It is a collaborative album inspired by the movie, hence very few songs from the movie can be found on the album and here may be where some of the problems start.

There is an argument that it may have been better if this album was put out as a Kendrick Lamar album inspired by the movie rather than the official musical companion to Black Panther.

WATCH | The music video for All the Stars from the Black Panther soundtrack

The core issue is that where Black Panther the movie is rooted in Africanness and all its attendant splendour, Black Panther the album is generally a moody African-American exposition of the plight of the black man in the land of Uncle Sam. It's Lamar's To Pimp a Butterfly album in cosplay.

Consequently, there is little joy on the album and Africa is a joyous place. Presumably part of the point of Black Panther the movie was to show an Africa that is home to happy, prosperous people as opposed to the impoverished slave homeland we're used to seeing. The album, though good, is an angsty take on African-American life and we've heard that from Kendrick more than enough times.

But there are moments of levity on the album. One cannot help but smile when the inimitable Babes Wodumo hops on Redemption to spend a whole verse saying "Oh my word! Oh my gosh! Oh my word!" before telling everybody to say "Kikirikiki!".

Other South Africans like Yugen Blakrok, Sjava and Saudi are the standouts on their respective tracks and Future also reminds us that perhaps all happiness requires is sex, money and Xanax. The closing track, Pray for Me, serves as the perfect backing track for a black superhero struggling through the redemption phase in a film.

WATCH | The music video for Pray for Me

There is a lot of Africa missing from this album. Like companies who front when it comes to BEE, a few South Africans have been lobbed in the mix to dupe Americans about the African content. Don't be fooled. This is a thoroughly American album and it sounds it.