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Album Review

Panther is the new black. On the big screen and in the music world.

The latest Marvel superhero movie has stormed the box office, while its soundtrack has simultaneously debuted at the apex of the album chart. Hip-hop sensation Kendrick Lamar is joined by artists such as Future, SZA, Khalid, and the Weeknd (among others), as they contribute songs that tie directly into Black Panther's main messages.

But while critics have almost universally embraced the film, the video for one of Lamar's songs has stirred controversy on the music side of things. Artist Lina Iris Viktor has alleged that the video's creators used images that closely resemble her artwork without her permission. In an interview with The New York Times, she asked, “Why would they do this? It’s an ethical issue, because what the whole film purports is that it’s about black empowerment, African excellence—that’s the whole concept of the story. And at the same time they’re stealing from African artists.”

That clash between excellence and exploitation rings out throughout the film. And the soundtrack itself definitely deals with those themes, too. But it also embraces some content that's typical of its genre, making this soundtrack quite a bit less super than the heroic movie it represents.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

In “Pray For Me,” Kendrick Lamar describes a broken world ("Mass destruction and mass corruption/The souls of suffering men") in which a hero proclaims, "I fight the world, I fight you, I fight myself/ … It's all prophecy, and if I gotta be sacrificed for the greater good/Then that's what it gotta be." But he also wonders if his efforts will be reciprocated: “Who gon’ pray for me?/Take my pain for me? Save my soul for me?” The song suggests that we can all be heroes, not just some of us who are obviously more "super": "You need a hero? Look in the mirror, there go your hero."

“Black Panther” features a humble, unifying king who draws his diverse citizenry together: “Sisters and brothers in unison, not because of me/Because we don’t glue with the opposition, we glue with peace.” Near the song's conclusion, we hear what a good king looks like in action: "Because the king don't cry, king don't die/King don't lie, king give heart, king get by, king don't fall."

“All the Stars" is a back-and-forth duet between Lamar and SZA. The song hints at how hard love can be at times ("Love, let's talk about love/Is it anything and everything you hoped for?"), but seems to affirm the goodness of two lives being brought together ("This may be the night that my dreams might let me know," SZA sings.) Lines illustrate how betrayal reveals who's loyal and who isn't ("Corrupt a man’s heart with a gift/That’s how you find out who you dealin’ with") and mention both prayer and giving thanks ("I just pray for no reason/I just thank for the life, for the day, for the hours and another life breathin'").

“Seasons” desires that “poverty/Jealousy/Negativity” all go away in pursuit of “one world, one God, one family.” A woman stands by a man’s side in “The Ways,” even though he confesses that he's messed up (perhaps an allusion to infidelity) many times. Yet he reaches out to her in reconciliation saying, “I’m here to give you love and never lose ya.”

“I Am” also features a fierce female who fights for positive change, no matter the opposition. We hear British teen Jorja Smith sing, “Try and shoot me down for voicing my own opinion/ … And I know that we have asked for change/Don’t be scared to put the fears to shame.” She and Lamar both say, "I try to make it stop, I pray it will stop," with the "it" in question here apparently referring to injustice.

In "Seasons," Mozzy praises his mother's tenacity (albeit using profanity to do so): "And she ain't never lied on her Jesus/She worked her a-- off just to feed us."

Objectionable Content

Despite those significant positive moments, however, there's plenty here that's anything but.

Nine of 14 songs include f-words—one of which ("X") includes 28 uses of that profanity. And some uses of that word are in sexual context. Other profanity scattered throughout the album includes uses of the s-word, "a--," "b--ch" and "n-gga," as well as the racial slur "coons," enough to earn every track on the album an "Explicit" warning.

Other problems turn up as well. Crude sexual references include allusions to oral sex ("Big Shot"), a threesome and "freaky" sex ("King's Dead"), the size of a woman's breasts and backside ("X"), strip clubs ("X"). Other songs, such as "Redemption," include more mildly suggestive lines, such as, “Oh, baby I want you/Baby I need you … /Your body’s on fire/And your drinks on ice."

Drug and alcohol references include winks and nods to cocaine, marijuana, "syrup" (prescription cough medicine), Xanax, getting high and alcohol usage. "Redemption" mentions two people who want to "party all of our lives away."

Then we have this album's allusions to—and at times, approval of—violence. Racial tension is linked with violence and anarchy on multiple tracks, such as “Opps,” “Bloody Waters” and “Seasons.” On the latter, rapper Mozzy says, “They tryna tell us that we all equal/We gettin’ no justice so it ain’t peaceful … /Whole lotta grind, lil’ n-ggas beefin’, we gotta keep it up or end up a victim/Trapped in the system, trafficking drugs, modern day slavery, African thugs/We go to war with this African blood.” Meanwhile on "Pray for Me," Weeknd sings, "I'm always ready for war again/ … I'm always ready to take a life again." And in “Black Panther,” a kingdom is filled with “shooters, looters, boosters, and ghettos poppin’,” ruled by a king who will “f--- up your organization if any beef” arises.

Summary Advisory

There’s a jarring mix of redemptive and reckless themes on this explicit 14-song soundtrack. Many important topics are addressed here, such as perseverance, love, loyalty and much-needed change and equality for blacks who've been treated unjustly. But suggestive and vulgar lyrics abound as well, giving the soundtrack a harsh tone that is not mirrored in the movie itself.

And some tracks suggest—sometimes boldly so—that violence and anarchy are the only ways to achieve peace. These songs imply that peaceful measures have been utilized in the past, to no avail. So if equality is to happen, it might require force.

For a movie like Black Panther, this disconnect between the film and its soundtrack causes a bit of a sticky situation. One of the goals of the movie, according to a recent article in Time, was to present black men and women in a positive and aspirational light. And the movie largely accomplishes that goal.

The soundtrack, though, is a mixed bag. We certainly hear moments where this is beautifully achieved as songs dig into the need for equality and justice. But when those ideas get paired with excessively foul language, derogatory sexual references toward women and the subversive promotion of violence as a means to an end, the soundtrack becomes as problematic as it is praiseworthy.

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles



Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range







Debuted at No. 1.

Record Label

Top Dawg Entertainment, Aftermath, Interscope




February 9, 2018

On Video

Year Published


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