But there are other moments that reflect the nerve driving the project. "Opps" is a sleek, house-indebted piece of electro-rap from Vince Staples and Johannesburg artist Yugen Blakrok, who steals the song with a verse packed with wordplay and tenacity. (She even dares to namecheck Gotham's Riddler, which hilariously earns her the rare bleep on this otherwise uncensored album.) As you'd expect from a TDE project, the rap-heavy moments tend to hit the hardest: "Paramedic!," a banger from Vallejo collective SOB x RBE, is an explosion of energy on a record that often chooses sub-duded contemplation over kinetic intensity. Does it need multiple James Blake contributions? Probably not.
Like the movie itself, Black Panther The Album is at its most compelling when it embraces the charismatic radicalism of Killmonger, the scene-stealing villain played Michael B. Jordan, daring to explore political ideas, emotional tones, and stylistic registers typically kept outside the Marvel universe. "King's Dead," a careening posse cut featuring Lamar, his Black Hippy co-hort Jay Rock, and Atlanta innovator Future, could give a Disney executive a heart attack. But here it is on an album that Spotify invites you to listen to when you open up the app. You can hear Future say "Slob on me knob" on a record that's tied to a movie that will probably gross a billion dollars.
At the same time, Black Panther: The Album is perhaps too rooted in the aesthetic comfort zone carved out by TDE over the last decade. As Lawrence Burney argues in a review of the record for Noisey, the album could be seen a missed opportunity to shine a light on an even wider range of innovative black musicians across the globe. "For a film that is set in a fictional East African nation, Black Panther’s soundtrack does a poor job of depicting what the African diaspora has to offer," writes Burney. "There are 11 black American artists out of 23 total on the album, mostly comprised of West Coast natives."
Unsurprisingly, there are limits to the album and the film's audacity. After all, Black Panther does not end with Killmonger emerging victorious. Ryan Coogler appears to have guided the lumbering Marvel movie machine in a way that will please critics, fans, and Disney shareholders, but there will likely be some who see the Public Enemy poster on the wall and view it as an empty gesture. Coogler is a thoughtful populist with a mischievous side. Black Panther: The Album might be a widely distributed, chart-topping project from Interscope, but the movie it's inspired by has a joke about putting your mixtape on SoundCloud. It's almost as if Coogler knows the revolution will not be televised -- or streamed, either.