The latest album by global superstar Beyoncé isn’t the much-sought after solo work her hive craves. Rather, much like the Kendrick Lamar-curated ‘Black Panther’ soundtrack, it’s a demonstration of her taste and star-studded power. In giving the spotlight to lesser-known artists, ceding space, she’s introduced a slew of emerging talent to her global audience while making an album worthy of repeated listens.
The opening tracks ‘Bigger’ and ‘Find Your Way Back’ are Beyoncé-centred, rambling a bit on the self-help trope. Despite this, they remain powerful as pop tracks, both songs underpinned by rhythmic Afrobeat-esque production.
Mr. Eazi, Yemi Alade and Tekno jump on ‘Don’t Jealous Me’ to trade verses with aplomb, setting the tone for the 27-track album. Next, Nigerian pop sensation Burna Boy showcases the depth of his talents on ‘Ja Ara E’ while Brooklyn-based SAINt JHN and Wizkid perform elaborate verse and hooks on ‘Brown Skin Girl’, alongside a snippet of Blue Ivy Carter’s dazzling voice, to show why they were picked to be on this soundtrack. Philly rapper Tierra Whack puts in a stand-out verse on ‘My Power’, proving exactly why she is the next great rapper.
Songs such as ‘Brown Skin Girl’ and ‘My Power’ have already become iconic, but it’s Jessie Reyez and 070 Shake’s ‘Scar’ that truly blows you away, the anchor holding the album. Shifting from a sad, piano-laced lament to a grinding, anthemic hip-hop tune, the force by which they distort expectations is a lesson in itself.
Yet the album feels flat it comes to mega-stars. Kendrick’s guest appearance is extraneous, especially with a chorus like, “One time I took a swim in the Nile / I swam the whole way, I didn’t turn around / Man, I swear / It made me relax when I came down.” Jay-Z and Childish Gambino (the rap alter ago of Donald Glover, who plays Simba in the movie_ on ‘Mood 4 Eva’ is, again, wholly unnecessary.
At times, ‘Lion King: The Gift’ feels messy and disjointed: star-studded names thrown into a pot alongside interludes that serve as flecks of nostalgia. It’s the collaborations between the lesser-known names that makes ‘The Gift’ such an enjoyable listen;‘The Gift’ connects musicians and listeners from Cameroon to America to Nigeria to South Africa to the UK (London’s own Moses Boyd helped to produce ‘My Power’).
‘Lion King: The Gift’ is a great example of Beyonce’s fantastic taste, and of her ability to oversee an album that doesn’t focus on her while also cementing the soundtrack as a worthy substitute to the original. Most importantly, it puts a spotlight on artists from the continent in which the movie takes place.