Everything surrounding Black Panther, from the first teaser trailer to this point post-release, has been constantly punctuated by power move after well-deserved power move. It’s not every day, after all, that anyone can get Kendrick Lamar himself to organize what’s basically an official mixtape for their movie. Yet here we are!
Black Panther: The Album
Kendrick Lamar and Travis Scott
It has its fair share of good songs, but it is this one right here that shot out immediately as a favorite. Things could surely change in the near future, but as of right now, “Big Shot” is the track that has gotten the most play from me by far. It’s just too catchy and playful! I think it also happens to illustrate much of what has always appealed to me about Kendrick.
Thus, we ought to talk about him as a whole for a minute. Part of my personal ethos, as a music listener, is that I often value the lyrics of a song as secondary to the sound. Conventionally, that perhaps disqualifies me—the dude who put French Montana and fucking Lil Uzi Vert on a single top-ten list—from having any sort of trustworthiness on the subject of rap, what with lyrics being not just a big deal, but THE big deal, and all that.
Honestly, though, you know what? Screw it. Rap music is still music, so I don’t think it’s unreasonable to hold the “music” part of the equation as just as valuable as the words. Enter: Kendrick Lamar. My sense of dignity would be remiss if I didn’t point out that the same top-ten list referenced above also had him on it, and his was the top rap song on it at that!
Kendrick is the seemingly rare breed whose seems to hold the lyrics and the music to the same importance, and can then actually knock it out of the park on both counts, and is downright playful about it all at that. He’s lyrically and technically gifted as hell, yet still pays attention to the perfect and funniest but also most thematically appropriate way to, say, deliver an over-the-top “BIYAATCH!!!” in a pure rap performance, or is willing to liberally toss singsong flows or straight-up singing into the mix if the song warrants it. Or just lets George Clinton be weird as fuck over a slab of psychedelic P/G-Funk.
Which all means that even when he turns in a performance that’s outright stupid, not only is it not jarring in the grand Kendrick Lamar context, it can even end up as one of the Black Panther mixtape’s highlights. Enter: “Big Shot”, the most cheerful song that also happens to have “cocaine white” as a lyric, and the subject of this piece which we will finally talk about. Absent the lyrical skills and deep statements, it’s the musicality and playfulness that end up carrying this track into excellence.
First off, the beat is just delightful, and like 96 percent of that is because I absolutely adore the chipper flute melody. It gives everything a happy-go-lucky summery vibe, perhaps also serving as a sonic encapsulation of that Wakanda flex. And—sorry, the comparison is inevitable—what would likely happen if “Mask Off” was in a wholesome good mood. Hell, turns out Kendrick was actually on the remix for that! Meaning our song of interest isn’t even his first go-round with the (pan) flute.
Second off, Kendrick and fellow partner-in-crime Travis Scott match the instrumentation in delightfulness. Singsong flows and enthusiasm get plastered all over the track, and it sounds like they’re having a ball. I don’t think it’s sheer coincidence, either, that it appears both of them are channeling the shit out of Lil Uzi Vert.
It’s especially strong with each “YEAHH!!!” kicking off a verse line, Kendrick slurring and dropping his consonants on the last lines, or the manner in which Travis deploys the autotune on his parts. Usually, however, that all gets accompanied with Lil Uzi’s existential dread nightmare beats, so it’s interesting to hear those moves instead over a summer banger. Turns out that combination might actually be a nice fit!
RedStripe Loved Trax—originally from days of Tumblr past—is a series about the music Justin adores, with special emphasis on songs from (or introduced by) video games and anime.