Review: Black Panther: The Album

“Who need a hero?
You need a hero, look in the mirror, there go your hero” – Kendrick Lamar

Black Panther Album
Album Cover for Black Panther: The Album

(THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW)

It was initially reported that Kendrick Lamar only planned to do a couple songs for Black Panther but after watching a private screening of the film, he and his label Top Dawg Entertainment (TDE) decided to release an entire soundtrack. The soundtrack was released on Feb 9th, a week before the release of the movie which was on Feb 16th. I had listened to the soundtrack the day it dropped but held off on doing a review because I wanted to see the movie first in order to gain a better understanding of the soundtrack. I finally got to see it a couple nights ago which is why you are reading this right now.

First of all, if you have not seen Black Panther, you need to fix that. It is truly fantastic  (#WakandaForever). It is possible to enjoy this 14 track album without watching the movie but in my opinion, it’s a better listening experience if you have seen it, which makes sense since this album is created around a movie.

After watching the movie, I liked the album a lot more than before watching it. Songs that seemed out of place on the album like “Redemption” by Zacari and Babes Wodumo and “I Am” by Jorja Smith, seemed to sound much better in the context of the actual movie. While other songs like King’s Dead, which had already been released as a single before the album release, sounded even more hard-hitting after I watched the movie.

Much like the film, the instrumentals on this album are heavily inspired by the African culture. From the drums, to the samples, even the verses in African languages, the influence of African culture is very apparent.

Kendrick Lamar is featured on nearly every track with him ad-libbing and/or rapping a whole verse (sometimes as characters from the movie) with standouts verses on the title track “Black Panther”, “King’s Dead” and “Pray For Me”. In terms of features on the album, each artist has a solid verse or song (except Future, but I’ll get into that in a second)  with Paramedic by rap group SOB x RBE being the standout. The song “Seasons” which features Reason, Mozzy and South African emcee Sjava where they discuss the struggles and inequality in Africa is another highlight on the album. Sjava even performs an entire verse in the Zulu language. Other notable features were Jay Rock on “King’s Dead” and SZA on All the Stars,

The album does have its low points though, most notably the verse by Future on the song “King’s Dead” where he does his braggadocio filled raps until he randomly starts singing. Horribly. I’m not sure if it was done ironically but even if it was, it’s a painful 15 seconds that feels like an eternity and nearly ruins an otherwise good song.

On it’s own, this album sounds a little all over the place but as a movie soundtrack it compliments the film and makes it a more enjoyable listen.

Favorite Tracks: All the Stars, Paramedic!, Big Shot, Pray For Me, King’s Dead.

Rating: 7.5/10

Ashar Ahmed aka Thunderous Overlord

Toronto: The New Haven for Hip-Hop

“This that new Toronto”- Drake

TO skyline

The world of hip hop is made up entirely of individual cities rather than being divided into countries. The reason being that hip hop cities like New York City where hip hop was born, Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Detroit to name a few, are all in the same country, but the “sound” or type of hip hop that the cities are known for are completely different from each other. Not only that, but these sounds have also had an everlasting effect on the hip hop landscape. With that in mind, I am here to make the case for Toronto being known as the next hip hop city.

Special Sound

Every big name city in the hip hop world has a particular sound that originates from that particular city. The unique sound also inspires other artists from other places to incorporate elements of the style of hip hop into their own music. Atlanta has trap music, New York has those aggressive, hard hitting drums and now Toronto has a ominous, dark almost spooky sound that has been by shaped a few artists and has gone on to influence artists that are not even from Toronto.

Icon Impact

Drake and The Weeknd
Drake (left) and The Weeknd (right) (Wenn)

Before any city can become a city worth noticing, at least one artist has to do something special in order to put their city on the map. Whether it’s develop a new sound that is unique to that city, offer a new perspective on things that have been done before in music, or just do something that has never been done before. This is what I like to call the Icon Impact. Luckily, Toronto has not one but two icons in Drake and The Weeknd. Since coming on to the scene in 2006 and 2011 respectively, they have had an unprecedented level of success with a combined 204 songs on the Billboard Hot 100 between them, with Drake holding the record for most hits by a solo artist with 160. Both artists played a monumental role in defining the dark and murky sound of Toronto hip hop that has majorly influenced American artists like Bryson Tiller and 6lack. Both are two of the biggest artists in the world and undoubtedly the two biggest artists to come out of Toronto. Talk about putting your city on the map.

Artist Abundance

If we look at any era of hip-hop, New York City has produced a number of unique artists. This allows NYC to remain the hip-hop capital of the world. It is not enough for Toronto to produce one superstar like Drake to be considered a great city of hip-hop. There must be other artists also contributing with their own unique style of music. They won’t all be Drake or The Weeknd, most can’t be. Some might go on to become part of the mainstream, while others attain underground success. But by making high quality hip-hop music, they would be representing Toronto to the world as a force to be reckoned with in terms of talented artists. Fortunately, Toronto does have this artist abundance (alliteration is kind of my thing), with artists such as Nav, Dvsn, Majid Jordan, PARTYNEXTDOOR, Tory Lanez etc. all with varying levels of mainstream success who continue to represent Toronto on the big stage.

Underground artists or artists on the come up, also play a role in pushing Toronto to the forefront of hip hop. For people who may not like Drake or the Weeknd or mainstream music in general, but still want to hear other variations of the Toronto sound or even something completely different, underground artists can provide that experience with their own music. A good example of an underground artist that is completely removed from the nocturnal sound of Toronto hip hop is John River.

Fanfare

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Kendrick Lamar (pictured) is one of the many artists to have performed in front of sold out crowds in Toronto over the years (ByBlacks)

The final requirement for a city to be considered a hip hop city is public interest. Simply put, do people in Toronto even listen to hip-hop? The answer is ABSOLUTELY. Drake and The Weeknd do not become the the legends that they are without people from their own city supporting them. But its not only homegrown talent that the people of Toronto listen to. As evident by Kendrick Lamar performing in front of a sold out Air Canada Center last July, and Kanye West doing the same on his last world tour.

In conclusion, Toronto has arrived in the world of hip hop and it is about time the city is given is just due. The Bronx may have birthed hip hop but Toronto is where it has learned a new side of itself and should be appreciated as such.

Ashar Ahmed aka Thunderous Overlord

TheIntroToLetYouKnow

“This is the intro, to let you know.”- OutKast

Hi! My name is NOT Slim Shady. It’s Ashar (pronounced Usher, like the singer. No, I do not sing or dance). Welcome to Hip Hot Takes! My blog where I talk about the ever-growing and changing hip hop community and the events that take place within it while also giving my opinion that nobody asked for.

I have been a hip-hop enthusiast for most my life and was always very opinionated about certain topics relating to the genre. However, I never really had a place to express my thoughts in a detailed way where people would actually listen to my opinion. Technically, I still don’t because not many people know this blog exists but you are reading this, so it’s a start! Anyway, I wanted to start this blog not only to have a forum where I could express my opinion, but also to have my point of view challenged by people who may disagree with my opinion. After all, it’s not really a “hot take” or controversial opinion if most, if not all people agree with you.

I hope you enjoy reading this blog half as much as I enjoyed writing it for you.

Ashar aka Thunderous Overlord