My nigga, I ain’t been outside in a minute. I been reapin’ what I sowed. That crop ain’t been no cash crop either, not for me at least. Its thorns picked my flesh raw, the labor required to harvest its nectar bittered it. But now, in the midst of this beautiful Black History Month, I feel vindicated, a feeling I haven’t felt for some time. Of course, there’s a catalyst for this drastic change in outlook.
Black. Motherfucking. Panther, bitch.
Ryan Coogler’s black ass opus was the impending boom —a strike of thunder destined to follow the lightning that is hip-hop. From the moment the hip-hop movement was born, this cultural event was destined. Black Panther is the actualization of promises made, kept and unkept by the prophets of the movement. The movie, in the simplest of terms, is the story of a black ass Batman. A blaxploitation film without the loveable corniness and continuity errors, exchanged for a high budget and hella green screens. Yet— the film is so much more than a black superhero movie. It’s a supernova, the defiant, fuck you laden resilience of the hip-hop generation that has been bubbling to a boil in the American cultural consciousness.
This is barely a “review,” so I’m going to avoid spoilers entirely and plot points for the most part. My intention here is to discuss the importance of Black Panther as an event; it’s the culmination of hip-hop’s persistent banging on culture’s door. The audacity of the film itself is a sight to behold: a thought unfathomable a decade ago, let alone in the context of the history of white Hollywood. The film and its accompanying soundtrack (equally important in regard to the film’s reference to and impact on hip-hop culture) harnesses the essence of youth and blackness across continents and cultures to create a wholly unifying moment in black history and art. The film is thrilling while thoughtful, political while subversive. It masterfully addresses the inner conflicts of black existence while refusing to create a singular villain, and in doing so it artfully and beautifully explores and extrapolates the perils of blackness as a trend versus blackness as a reality.
Beyond it’s undeniable cinematic quality and ambition, Black Panther is a singular artistic expression because of its unabashed, insatiable demand to display the diversity and nuances of the global south and the hip-hop generations. There’s just something so inarticulable in the power of representation, the daringness, bravery, and integrity of turning the soul of black art into a global phenomenon. Black Panther isn’t a black blockbuster; it’s a dichotomy shifter. The film demands that those that have yet to get with the program either get down, or lay the fuck down and sleep it off. Our voice, our culture, our impact on “culture” (read as: whatever white folk are into this week) and its undulations is undeniable and here to stay.
Fuck you. Pay us.
For hip-hop’s sake, I would be remiss to not address the massive role sonics play in creating the force that is Black Panther. The soundtrack, curated by Kendrick Lamar (AKA a Benz is to him just a car), and his TDE cohorts, along with the score handled by Ludwig Göransson (producer of Redbone, amongst other accolades) perfectly directs the pacing and storytelling of the film, the two cinematic aspects that elevate Black Panther to the upper echelon of the “superhero” movie. The story of Black Panther is that of intrablack conflict and struggle, the trauma of finding one’s place in the world. The rolling hi-hats, energetic synths, pulsating rhythms, and rhymes that serve as the bulk of the film’s musical elements create an atmosphere of resilience. The “rap is the new punk rock” misnomer is played out and lazy, but hip-hop’s status as the sound of youth in revolt asserts a new countercultural movement in art and culture. The synergy of Pan-African music that dictates the emotion of the film dictates its impact on its intended audience, and the message it sends is crystal clear.
We here, nigga. And we ain’t going nowhwere.
While this is by no means a responsibility of the film and it should not be expected to do so, Black Panther finds its most significant accomplishment in establishing hip-hop as high art, a historically difficult feat. The direction, cinematography, acting, every got-damn aspect of the film is superb and enchanting. It totally redefines what a superhero movie can be, and not just because it’s black. Black Panther is great the same way jazz, and later, hip-hop is great. It didn’t reinvent the wheel. It made a better one. It set the standard and tone for all that followed it, and demanded that the people that look like and identify with its cast and crew be heard and listened to. Clearly we’re up to something. Hopefully the other side catches up, and recognizes those long overdue their credit.
Black Panther deserves every cent it makes. As does its soundtrack. But beyond the accomplishments that can be measured in dollars and trophies, its crowning achievement is the statement it makes by virtue of existence. We been dictating the pace of culture. Y’all just decided to cosign it. But it’s okay.
We ain’t going nowhere.