A poignant first look: The first look at Ryan Coogler’s follow-up to 2019’s Oscar-winning Black Panther was a stunning visual display, as the royals of Wakanda are seen recuperating from the loss of their king T’Challa, a role earlier played by the late Chadwick Boseman. The impact of the star’s loss permeates on-screen as a rendition of Bob Marley’s 'No Woman, No Cry' perfectly captures the melancholic moment.
As the trailer picks up pace, the notes to ‘No Woman’ fade seamlessly into an energetic “We gonn’ be alright”, shifting the mood to a hopeful one, in the face of this tremendous loss. The familiar lines, of course, are from Kendrick Lamar’s Alright, a song that has been adopted as the universal call for revolution in the United States.
Not the first Lamar for MCU: But this isn’t the first time Lamar’s music has been incorporated in the MCU, nor is it a first for his music being made an emblem of African American counterculture. The soundtrack to 2018’s Black Panther was curated and produced in a studio album by Lamar, a testament to his musical vision and his ability to bring together a group of the finest African diasporic musicians.
The curation of the album was inspired by Lamar’s visit to South Africa shortly prior to production. Influences of his motherland find their way in the texture of the album, his production style reflecting the perfect clash of cultures, an underlying theme that influences the film as well.
Tracks on the album are Lamar’s own assembly of African ‘Avengers’, as he fuses the conventional sounds of the hip-hop and R&B spectrum with the Zulu tongues of the artists, Saudi, Sjava and Babes Wudomo. Lamar’s album represents the very best of a pan-African culture, one that blurs the boundaries between the continents.
The album serves as a colourful tapestry of cultural influences, shifting tones and beats according to the mood it reflects. While the R&B heavy ‘The Ways’ and the mellow Zulu lyrics of ‘Seasons’ celebrate this pan-African identity, the aggressive upbeat “Opps” and “X” tap into the defiant revolutionary spirit of the very same identity.
The impact of the album: Lamar went on to be nominated for an Oscar, when “All The Stars” was nominated for Best Original Song; one of the many nods that Black Panther received at the Academy Awards, and one which many agree he was robbed off in retrospective. Holistically, the cultural impact that Black Panther had upon its release was a sum of its titular characters' significance and Lamar’s triumph on the sonic front, with the soundtrack album.
The rapper’s work has consistently redefined the African American consciousness with each passing studio album, notably, his work prior to Black Panther on DAMN winning five Grammy awards as well as earning Lamar a Pulitzer Prize for music. His music has thus become an indelible part of Black counterculture that has continuously found its way into pop culture and media.
Black Lives Matter Movement: With ‘Alright’, from his third studio album To Pimp A Butterfly, a seething commentary on growing institutionalised violence against Black communities, Lamar created the sound of a literal revolution. The chorus to the song became the anthem for the Black Lives Matter movement, chants of which rang sonorous throughout the protests that swept the US.
Lamar’s music had a universalising effect on listeners not just in the States, but all over the world. His perfectly constructed rhymes, cheeky nods to religion and politics, and intricate character sketches solidify Lamar’s status as one of the greatest artists of the moment, if not of hip-hop as a genre.
There is an exceedingly rare and humanising quality about Lamar’s music as he looks beneath the surface of everything and has a refined and persuasive lyrical style. He doesn’t merely oppose the violence and oppression around him, he fights to understand it.
And where better to look than his own security detail at his most recent performance for his latest album tour,
Security Guard Cries as Kendrick Lamar Performs pic.twitter.com/N6JBMpfYUy— No Jumper (@nojumper) July 23, 2022
Kendrick Lamar personifies the sound of a cultural movement. And the consistent recurrence of these sounds in popular media exemplifies his influence.