A seemingly limitless well of inspiration and creativity, Kendrick Lamar has hit his next career milestone. Approached to contribute to Marvel’s Black Panther by director Ryan Coogler, Lamar’s involvement with the soundtrack marks his continued expansion into the mainstream, pop culture.
Saying Kendrick Lamar isn’t mainstream is off; his list of credits skyrocketed after dropping his second studio album, Good Kid M.A.A.D. City, contributing to non-hip-hop cuts like Sia’s “The Greatest” and Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood”. But unlike many of his rap contemporaries, much of Kendrick Lamar’s persona has been tied to rapping, and rapping alone.
With hip-hop, both the music and the culture around it, blossoming in its commercial viability, the absence of a noisy backing from a fashion house or alcohol brand for Lamar is obtuse in 2018. While artists like Drake and Rick Ross are quick to flaunt bottles of Virginia Black and Belaire Rose at every passing moment, much of Lamar’s non-musical activities are subtler.
In 2013, on his infamous “Control” verse, Lamar swore off many of the material afflictions of his peers such as designer clothes and recreational use of MDMA. He’s largely kept to that message, limiting public appearances of his endorsements and ostentatious displays of wealth.
“And I ain’t rocking no more designer shit/ White T’s and Nike Cortez, this Red Corvette’s anonymous” – Kendrick Lamar, “Control” (2013)
Outside of featuring in commercials for frequent collaborator Dr. Dre’s Beats merchandise, he’s gone shopping for soap with Shaquille O’Neal and American Express and participated in a Big Brother-like PSA produced by Top Dawg Ent. called “Hard Work”. Lamar also released limited edition Reeboks, unifying a red and blue colorway symbolic of an anti-gang violence message aimed at Bloods and Crips.
Still, music has come to define K. Dot’s existence largely without interruption, making his involvement with a critically acclaimed film even more notable.
In fact, Lamar’s hand in curating the Black Panther soundtrack solidifies just the fourth time he’s earned a production credit, and his first since 2011. According to Discogs, Lamar has only produced on Section 80, O.Verly D.edicated, and labelmate ScHoolboy Q’s Setbacks. His contribution is also the first time is also the first time a black artist or rapper executive produced a Marvel soundtrack.
While Ludwig Göransson and TDE’s in-house producer Sounwave handled much of the instrumentation according to an NPR interview, that Lamar is listed as producer at all is a testament to his calculated approach to defining his career.
Lamar’s most recent album, DAMN. strayed from the funk and gangsta rap sounds he embraced in the past in favor of more modern, trap-flavored production. Though the album was well within his conscious rap wheelhouse, DAMN. has been Lamar’s most commercially successful release thus far, reaching RIAA double-platinum status in under a year.
Commemorating the release of Black Panther with a soundtrack curated by Lamar, Sounwave and Top Dawg as a whole continues to blur the lines that once bisected pop culture and politically geared hip-hop. Once viewed as commercially disparate, Kendrick Lamar is proving the importance of hip-hop, and more importantly black culture, at large.