Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Black Panther: The Album [TDE/Aftermath/Interscope, 2018]
Shrewdly, Kendrick Lamar conceived this not-actually-a-soundtrack as a relief from the burden of remaking himself album to album to album. Credited on only four tracks, he's all over it vocally anyway, marking every one of the nine remaining songs with a verse or chorus or hook defined by the least regal of the great rap flows, unassumingly slurred while making every word count. Throughout Lamar delivers star-studded, hooky-to-jingly, sneakily experimental pop-rap product tinged with the flick's racialized broad-stroke humanitarianism; whatever sketchy plot references some exegete may imagine, "I Am" is a stand-alone love song, "Paramedic!" a street-ready gangsta metaphor. As in the film, the music's African tinge bears down on electronic decibelizations of the ensemble percussion to which Americans of all races still reduce the continent's many musics, but with the saving grace that the wealth of cameos doesn't stop with the multiple star turns. Room is made not just for the phlegmy young Vallejo spitters Slimmy B and DaBoii unfazed by Top Dawg godfather Jay Rock, for UK ingenue Jorja Smith standing tall next to Top Dawg seeker SZA, but for five South Africans, one of whom rams home the most arresting verse on the record: seasoned "Jo-Burg Femcee" Yugen Blakrok, who tops "Opps" off with a deep-voiced rhyme that only begins by assonating "millipede" and "Millie Jackson." Blakrok has her own album coming. What a blow for Wakanda it would be if Top Dawg picked it up. A