COLUMN: Hip-Hop soundtrack in 'Black Panther' was the perfect addition to a flawless film


I have always wanted more mainstream movies to use hip hop to convey a story — "Black Panther" finally did it.

The accompanying album by Kendrick Lamar cemented the possibilities that could be realized by writing an album for and inspired by the movie with obvious passion behind both. 

While I listened to the album on repeat before the movie, nothing could have prepared me for the onslaught of audio and visual spectacles featured in the film.

Throughout the film, some use of Lamar’s soundtrack is subtle. The movie sprinkles in parts of the album first in small doses. Main character T’Challa’s flying ship can be heard playing trap beats as it soars through the air throughout the film. Later, as a ship glides in the sky, “Big Shot” with Lamar and Travis Scott hums through. 

Perhaps these scenes were so powerful to me because that's exactly what I would be doing if I had a Vibranium flying ship: blasting my favorite beats. 

The potential of the music really comes into play when the main characters step into a casino in Busan, South Korea. The film brings in the thumping house beat from “Pray for Me” by Lamar and The Weeknd. By the time The Weeknd starts singing, the characters are in full conflict.

As the fight starts, so does the song:

I’m always ready for a war again

Go down that road again

It's all the same

I'm always ready to take a life again.

Putting The Weeknd and Lamar right beside the main characters left a smile glued to my face. Black Panther getting thrown around synced up perfectly and complemented the subject matter portrayed in the song:

Mass destruction and mass corruption

The souls of sufferin' men

Clutchin' on deaf ears again, rapture is comin'

It's all prophecy and if I gotta be sacrificed for the greater good

Then that's what it gotta be.

This section of the film is relentless in introducing hip hop to the storytelling of the film. 

Next, “Opps” was the backdrop for a car scene unfolding on screen. As tires squealed on black top so too did Vince Staples' raw vocals — only relenting to the noise of Black Panther's claws sparking on the ground:

Hey, hey — ready, set, go crazy

Here to finesse, you see I'm getting mines

A life hit a n**** with a lemon's limelight

Lamar’s catchy chorus accentuates this subject matter:

Opps on the radar (You're dead to me)

How you wanna play ball? (You're dead to me)

–takes all (You're dead to me).

I have watched this scene dozens of times and I still can’t wipe the grin off my face. 

Lamar next brought in Future and James Blake for his track about Killmonger, Black Panther’s main villain. The effort gave background to the angry, unstable character with a song highlighting those same traits and motivations. 

The accents go the other way of course. The influences of the film on the album are clear. Between Lamar’s usual dense verses and the sampling of the film’s drums, chants, subject matter and characters, the influence is genuine. 

The presence of the two works of art not only complement each other, they show a mutual appreciation between all artists involved. 

Director Ryan Coogler and Lamar were passionate about making their projects complementary, and it shows — both projects are better because the other exists. 

For me, this was perfect. My love of hip hop and its culture allowed me to understand Black Panther through a focused viewpoint. 

These star-studded, feature-packed tracks and this film are going to stick with me because they did something daring and unique. I hope more movies follow suit.