Kendrick Lamar’s talent as a rapper is undeniable, but on Black Panther: The Album, the Compton lyricist proves his ear for others is as good as his own.
As the curator, producer and frequent feature on the soundtrack, Lamar effectively fuses the sounds the West Coast with that South Africa, featuring a nearly equal number representatives from each side. It’s an artful curation that bridges modern culture with history, and maybe most importantly, it just simply sounds nice. From Jorja Smith’s silkiness on “I Am” to Yugen Blakrok’s absolutely insane murder on “Opps,” here are our picks for the six standout verses on Black Panther: The Album. (And yes, two them are from “King’s Dead.”)
6. Schoolboy Q on “X”
Schoolboy Q could’ve just said, “Not even Kendrick can humble me” and nothing else, and his verse still would’ve made this list. In fact, that line as the exclamation point to the middle his verse is largely why he is on the list. His flow is effortless, making for an understated sound and maybe the reason for his general underrated status. Q on “X” is a perfect example what he does well, which is flexing the sound his voice and keeping his lines simple.
5. Slimmy B on “Paramedic!” by SOB x RBE
On “Paramedic,” there stands an ideal dilemma over whether it’s the beat or the verses that make the track sound the way it does. The song is a hard-hitting sonic homage to the West Coast with a DJ Dahi & CuBeatz beat that bangs heavy for the San Francisco Bay Area rap collective SOB x RBE. Kendrick opens with a declaration “I'm a California n—a and I'm heavy in the streets,” a line that transitions directly into Slimmy B’s quick hit a verse. B confidently raps about not relating to snitching and the partnership with Top Dawg Entertainment before succinctly closing with, “One fist in the air, I ain't finna put my hands up.” It’s the exact kind straightforward lyricism and flow that fits snuggly on the beat, emphasizing Lamar’s impeccable curation.
4. Jorja Smith on “I Am”
Part Jorja Smith’s allure is her mystique. Aside from “On My Mind,” the breakout U.K. garage-inspired dance song, there is not much else in her catalog work, and what exists is largely acoustic homages to her insanely seasoned vocals. On “I Am,” she’s re-imagined as the full R&B star she should, could and most likely will become. The 20-year-old’s voice is wildly silky and almost disarming when she nonchalantly croons, “sometimes we ain’t meant to be free.” As one the few non-rap songs on the album, Smith continues to stand out all on her own.
3. Jay Rock on “King’s Dead”
Jay Rock is a hip-hop legend, and he knows it and he raps like it. “King’s Dead” was originally released a month ahead the album, but it still stands as a breakout on the track list, while also fitting into it perfectly. Jay’s opening verse on the track is exciting, fast, and convincing, with a smooth opening that breaks into a breath-less second half. The lyrics are simple and focus on repetitive play like, “I've been ready, my whip been ready, My bitch been ready, my clique been ready. My shit's been ready, my check's been ready.” The impression is left to the flow, with a latter part that’s the kind thing you want to rap along to, but probably can’t unless you’re Jay Rock himself.
2. Future on “King’s Dead”
Future’s verse on “King’s Dead” is somehow simultaneously both the funniest and the hardest thing he’s ever done. It starts f simple enough with the rapper bouncing on the Mike WiLL Made-it beat, and then suddenly, it hits. In what must be the absolute highest pitch possible for him, Future goes into some sort child-like state, rapping, “la dee da di da slob on my knob,” and then continues his verse at the same rate, breaking up his lines with the “la dee da di da.”
In its entirety, the episode is only somewhere around ten seconds long, before he snaps out it and returns to his more familiar deep tone for the last line his verse. But its length has nothing to do with its legacy, and Future’s verse on “King’s Dead” is truly some his best recent work.
1. Yugen Blakrok on “Opps”
With the power and swagger M.I.A and the lyrical control Kendrick himself, Yugen Blakrok is an embodiment dark strength and complexity on the final verse “Opps.” In a steady machine-like flow, she raps in a thick accent, “Roar like a lioness, punch like a cyborg.” It’s a line that addresses and embraces the fact that she’s a female without making it the entire point, something that seems timely and fitting for the MC.
Hailing from Johannesburg, Yugen Blakrok has been in the game for somewhere near a decade, something that’s made clear on word play lines like, “Spit slick, attack is subliminal, Flowers on my mind, but the rhyme style sinister–Stand behind my own bars, like a seasoned criminal.” Blakrok’s verse is robotic and smooth, angry and engaging. Her talent is undeniable, and this singular verse is not and should not be enough for fans. The rapper is seemingly vested for a career in the states, but as for where to start for now, 2013’s “House Ravens” is a great place until her seemingly inevitable blow-up.