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BLACK PANTHER:
SOUND & VISION

Revolutionary is the operative word. A film that is not only shattering box-office records but also shaping up as a worldwide cultural event, Black Panther is embedded with a pioneering spirit that extends from its superhero origins to its all-black casting. Young black director Ryan Coogler made the genius decision to personally recruit Kendrick Lamar—one of music’s most creative, dynamic, political and important voices—to channel the film’s most powerful social themes via a body of work comprising the incredible TDE/Aftermath/Interscope album Black Panther Music From and Inspired By.

“When Ryan first approached us,” producer Sounwave recalls, “the movie was about 50% done, and he wanted a few records to match specific scenes in the movie. But Kendrick and I instantly were drawn in by the opening scene and the deep message this movie told from two different standpoints. We were inspired to follow that same formula by keeping the movie’s energy and raw emotions in a modern musical form. We realized that would be hard to do with just a few songs, which is why the soundtrack was born.”

The cinematic and musical vectors intersected naturally, according to Interscope Vice Chairman and marketing guru Steve Berman. “We’ve had the opportunity to work closely with Disney and Marvel across a few projects,” he points out. “When the opportunity for Black Panther came up, we immediately thought this would be the perfect project for Kendrick, Top and TDE to put their creative vision to. TDE sat with Ryan and the two creative worlds merged, resulting in an amazing album.”

The collection—which debuted at #1 from Norway to Australia and appears to have legs, as does lead single “All the Stars”—doubles as a coming together of black music’s best new talent, which in itself is a proclamation. Along with sprinkles of Lamar and beats from Sounwave throughout, the album contains contributions from TDE labelmates SZA, Jay Rock, Ab-Soul and ScHoolboy Q; bona fide stars in The Weeknd, Future, Travis Scott, Swae Lee and Anderson .Paak; and developing acts that are already on the path to blossom in short order, including Jorja Smith, Vince Staples, Zacari and SOB X RBE.

“There were a variety of reasons why each artist was picked,” Sounwave explains, “from Kendrick, Top Dawg and I already being fans of the artist to finding the right person to match the emotion we were looking for, and also a lot of studying different kinds of music. We were listening to a massive South African playlist for months, straight to where we became big fans of the sound and culture. And that was an important part, because we wanted to go inside their world to get an organic sound, sonically and emotionally.”

Sounwave says of the team’s creative process, “We had to attack things differently from our usual album format because the story line was already created for us to follow, which allowed us to tap into elements we normally wouldn’t do. We were also on a very strict time limit, so all through the DAMN. Tour, Kendrick and I would hop right offstage into the studio bus, creating different ideas from beats to hooks. We even ended up scrapping great songs with big-name features on them because we couldn’t clear things in time or they didn’t fit the overall concept, but it all worked out at the end.”

All the participants shine with deep originality on this inspired undertaking. This is Lamar telling you who to care about, as well as signaling what messages and themes to know about from the film. It’s a masterful parallel universe, with Lamar keeping one foot firmly in the real world—the brutal one he’s already told us about in good kid, m.A.A.d city, To Pimp a Butterfly and DAMN.

For example, the character of Killmonger represents in part the struggle and plight of blackness outside the utopian bubble of Wakanda, and his memorable exit line surely haunts millions of moviegoers: “Bury me in the ocean with my ancestors who jumped from ships, ’cause they knew death was better than bondage.” That makes Kendrick’s rap from the character’s very perspective in the second verse of “King’s Dead” super-heavy. Same with Ab-Soul, who raps on the track “Bloody Waters”: “The big picture’s in motion/Are you playin’ your part?/Before the lights get dark and the curtains get closed/Are you playing your role?”

This record consistently delivers socially searing verses freighted with history and purpose, the same vibes Kendrick gives off through the entirety of the album. “Respect to all the artist/ ‚Ä®producers that allowed me to execute a sound for the sound-track,” he recently acknowledged, adding, “The concept of producing and composing a project other than my own has always been [an] ideal. I appreciate the experience, [loved] ones. Continue to be great.”

Fans have risen up in support; the record is a smash, with multiple singles performing in the marketplace—“Pray for Me” and “All the Stars” vaulted into the Top 10 last week at Rhythm radio, and the album has sold close to 300k domestically in its first two weeks, while registering 225m combined streams in the U.S. on Apple Music and Spotify.

Although only a few songs appear in the movie itself—“Pray for Me” and “Opps” are heard briefly in key scenes, while “All the Stars” plays in its entirety over the end credits—the album’s wider significance and ultimate triumph is that it stands as a true companion piece that lives in the real world, which is arguably just as powerful, advanced and everlasting as is Vibranium in the land of Wakanda.

When asked whether Kendrick was trying to express anything of wider scope than the themes of the film, Sounwave replies, “Of course, there’s going to be a wider expression in anything and everything we touch. That’s one of the main reasons you have to keep listening.”

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