Still a hot topic, the motion picture “Black Panther” has now topped $1.3 billion in global receipts, and has surpassed Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet’ 1997 classic “Titanic” to become the third most grossing film in the US, behind “Avatar” and “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”; surpassing “Transformer: Age of Extinction” ($1.104 bill in 2014), and “Skyfall” ($1.108 bill In 2012). With the $1.3 billion dollar mark worldwide, this makes “Black Panther” the 18th biggest global grosser of all time. The movie also seems to be on it’s way to exceed“Captain America: Civil War” (1.153b in 2016). If the “Tomb Raider” movies had a slow start, then “Black Panther” would be the first movie since “Avatar”, to top the weekend box office for five weeks straight.

Kendrick Lamar was given the chance to lead the way  in the production of the “Black Panther” soundtrack for one reason that precedes all others, and that is because the director of the film, Ryan Coogler (also known for his work of both critically acclaimed motion pictures,  Fruitvale Station” and “Creed”), is a big fan of Kendrick’s ever since his mixtape days and has always wanted to work with the rapper. “Black Panther” was the perfect opportunity for Coogler to reach out to K-Dot and extend the offer. And it seemed that K-Dot, however, didn’t want to do it alone,  calling on his label head, Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith “ to co-produce along with him and Ryan. “I am honored to be working with such incredible artist whose work has been so inspirational, and whose artistic themes align with those we explore in the film” said Coogler in anticipation of working with Kendrick on the soundtrack.

“Marvel studios Black Panther is amazing, from it’s cast to its director. The magnitude of this film showcases a great marriage of art and culture. I am truly honored to contribute my knowledge of producing sound and writing music alongside Ryan and Marvel’s vision.” (K-Dot)

The anticipation for the “Black Panther” movie started to build up ever since the character was introduced to the MCU in “Captain America’s Civil War” back in May 2016.The opportunity to approach K-Dot with the proposal didn’t present itself until April of 2017; and with the success of his DAMN album, Coogler decided it was the right time. Wanting to make sure that he accepted, Cooglerpolished his offer with some footage from the set to persuade K-Dot’s decision.

“At first he was just going to do a few songs for the film, then he watched a bit of the movie, and the next thing I know, they were booking a studio and going at it” (Coogler).

“The production, the hooks, the ideas were created while on the tour”  said TDE producer SounWave; the Los Angeles native producer who has been producing tracks for K-Dot and his TDE family for quite some time now. He has worked alongside Kendrick for all of his Grammy nominated projects, and also contributed to the production of the 2015 Grammy award winning track “Alright”. Sounwave, who considers himself a fanatic of comics, couldn’t have been more excited that Marvel gave Kendrick the authority, which meant giving TDE complete creative control of the album. “ I think it’s only right, the movie is not set in 1910s or in the 1960s when Black Panther first came out. It’s set in today. There’s today’s moments happening in the movie so we wanted the whole soundtrack to sound like that too. I think it was a perfect marriage for us to blend the two worlds” (SounWave).

Now with the soundtrack actually available for download, here are a couple of things that we have learned about the album. As mentioned earlier, Coogler inquired of Kendrick for a couple of singles for the soundtrack, and after disclosing some footage from the movie, he (K-Dot) decided to take control of the whole DAMN project. What made this “Black Panther” album even more special, was that with Kendrick and Top Dawg behind the wheel, it seemed the rest of the TDE family was riding shotgun (except for the artist Isaiah Rashad, SiR, and Lance Skiiiwalker). This is special because Kendrick’s latest album DAMN did not feature anyone from his label family, Schoolboy Q’s and SZA’s latest projects only featured about two of their labelmates. From the TDE family, of course Kendrick is featured on multiple tracks, Ab-Sol who adds soul to the track “Bloody Water”, while Schoolboy Q schools all on the track titled “X”. SZA embodies a being beyond the stars as she serenades multiple singles on the album, as well. And, Jay Rock’s verse also went uber hard on the track titled “King’s Dead” featuring, Future and Kendrick Lamar. But the album did not only feature just the TDE family; it also featured artists like Jorja Smith, Zacari, James Blake, Mozzy, Reason and SOB x RBE.

“To have a song with Kendrick today, is like having a song with Tupac, its legendary” said Zacari. He is the one that blessed the track “LOVE” with his vocals, off of Kendrick’s last album. The full name of the 23 year old R&B singer is Zacari Pacaldo, and he was born and raised in Bakersfield, California. He met K-Dot while helping another TDE artist with a track on his debut album (Isaiah Rashad is the artist, and the project is called “The Sun’s Tirade”).

I met Kendrick after ‘The Sun’s Tirade’ came out. I was in the studio with [producer] Teddy Walton, who’s doing a lot of my project as well. Moosa was telling me he’d get me a session with Kendrick soon, so we were getting ready for that. We got it in with him, and that’s pretty much based off ’cause Kendrick heard me on ‘The Sun’s Tirade’ joint. So he was like, “Yeah, fo sho. Bring that guy through.” It was me and Teddy, we went in, Teddy played him some beats, and then Kendrick asked me to play him a few of my songs, and I think I played him about four songs. The last song I played was the one that he ended up picking up.” (Zacari)

What seemed to really standout is the addition of South African artists on the album. Introducing the world to a more of a diverse sound, Kendrick did just that with this motiveand adding these artists did just that. On the track “Oops”, Yugen Blakrok, a young rapper from Johannesburg, South Africa delivered a verse that sounded pretty much like a tongue twister where  she mentions the name Kathleen Cleaver, the black panthers secretary of communications, who later became the first woman to serve as part of their decision-making body. “For me, it was really hard to believe, but then again it’s not, because you put your work out there for it to be found, so when it happened, it was mind-blowing that it would lead to that” said Blackrok, when asked how she reacted after hearing the news of being featured on the soundtrack.  Babes Wodumo, the self proclaimed queen of gqom, lyrics’ blessed the track “Redemption” in the language known as isizulu. Gqom is a style of house music that is now gaining popularity in her home town of Durban, South Africa. Saudi, also South African, but from Soweto made his appearance on the song “X”, and also had a verse that was in mostly recited in the Zulu language.  And then there was Sjava , a singer from Kwazulu Natal , whose verse was very soulful on the track “Seasons”,singing the verse in zulu, but switches up in between the two for the hook.

After the release of the film, K-Dot disclosed during a radio interview that he would love to play the role of a villain in the next “Black Panther” movie. “Come on, I got to now!” Lamar said. He went on to say he enjoyed Michael B. Jordan’s character, villain Erik Killmonger. “He was a villain but he was loved and misunderstood,” Lamar said. “So if I could, I’d play a Killmonger for sure.” Kendrick had the greatest opportunity to keep the ball rolling from his success of 2017 due to his work on his DAMN album into 2018 with the production of the “Black Panther” soundtrack. His name might not be on every track, but we believe he left his DAMN paws all over this “Black Panther” soundtrack. He was able to grant a fan (Ryan Coogler), a long time wish in working with him on the same project making an incredible movie soundtrack, and what could even be called a label album (Something like what Kanye did with G.O.O.D Music and the “Cruel Summer” album).

And to add to the hype, with all this success that he has received ever since the release of his “DAMN” album, K-Dot has also stirred up some speculationthat he is arguably the best rapper alive.  Releasing an article shortly after the release of the “DAMN” album, MTV stated some reasons on why K-Dot is currently, and rightfully the best rapper alive.

This tweet was directed to his fans after receiving the news that his album had just went double platinum followed by his page being with congratulatory comments on not only what was his recent success, but also his career so far. The topic of the best rapper alive, though, usually gets diluted because of album sales numbers, but in the case of the “DAMN” album sales, K-Dot proved not only that his music is resonating and leaving a long lasting effect, but they also prove that his numbers are getting stronger, and fan base is just growing;and with that, his performances are becoming a must see event.

It’s one thing to be praised by fans and the ones who only want to critique you, but when one or more of your peers start to sing the same tune about you, it must mean something. K-Dot already believes that he is the greatest rapper alive, but what of his peers? Rappers such as Eminem, Lil Wayne, and Wale have all praised Kendrick, and even fellow LA rapper Vince Staples commented on K-Dot’s status versus the competition currently in the rap game by saying, “It’s not even close”. Another reason why K-Dot can be considered the best rapper alive today is for the simple fact that he writes his own rhymes, and everyone knows that in today’s hip-hop culture the topic of the “ghostwriter” is a very sensitive topic. “I called myself the best rapper. I cannot call myself the best rapper if I have a ghostwriter. If you’re saying you’re a different type of artist and you don’t really care about the art form of being the best rapper, then so be it. Make great music. But the title, it won’t be there” (K-Dot, Rolling stones).

To top it all off, Kendrick Lamar has become the first rapper to ever win a Pulitzer prize for his DAMN album that came out last year. The Pulitzer Prize is an award for achievements in newspaper, magazine and online journalism, literature, and a more classical style of musical composition in the United States. Said to be the unanimous choice within its category, it was a DAMN good outrage.

“ The time was right, We are very proud of this selection. It means that the jury and the board judging system worked as it’s supposed to — the best work was awarded a Pulitzer Prize.It shines a light on hip-hop in a completely different way. This is a big moment for hip-hop music and a big moment for the Pulitzers “ – The administrator of the Pulitzer Prizes Dana Canedy, The New York Times

But back to the question of the best rapper alive, the likes of Lil Wayne, and Jay-Z have been thrown around. Do you think Kendrick has the talent to outshine rappers like these in the near future, or is he already doing so?

 

Story by Allen Benoit