It's clear by now that Black Panther is a monumental achievement in filmmaking. From its superb depiction of Afrofuturism, nuanced characters that are immediately identifiable, and an unflinching stance on isolationism in a postmodern world, Black Panther has transcended its common book trappings – it's a cultural phenomenon unlike the likes of what we've seen before. And it's so good that Kendrick Lamar reportedly saw a cut of the film and, instead of submitting a song, sent an entire album inspired by the themes on display.
Now that the film is quickly becoming one of the highest grossing films of the year, talk of the sequel has already begun. With Killmonger out of the way, who could play the foil to Chadwick Boseman's T'Challa? Kendrick Lamar revealed that he would be open to playing a villain in the cast, citing "a Killmonger" type as his first choice. With Michael B. Jordan's character making his exit, it's reasonable to conclude that Kendrick as Killmonger in the sequel is out of the question. Luckily for him, and for comic and casual fans of the film, there's more than enough bad guys for the 30-year-old rapper to suit up as.
Now, what if Kendrick at different stages of his career could play the big bad? Based off of his discography so far, each project showcases a different story and personality of one of rap's most talented artists. Taking into consideration the thematic elements on display in his commercial projects, a host of possibilities opens up.
Section.80 // King Cadaver
At 24 years old, Kendrick Lamar was a different man than he is today. Section 80 puts this in-between age into perspective, focusing on making sense of a drug-fueled world through quirky observations and melancholy realizations. Through soulful and spacey instrumentals, Kendrick channeled his mental observations to introduce himself to the world on a level higher than his last project, Overly Dedicated.
King Cadaver is one of Black Panther's adversaries that gets way less shine than some of his peers; he's only been in a handful of comics, but his rarity perhaps comes for good reason. Suffering from the ill effects of radiation contamination, he's become a horrendous figure with psychic powers like controlling others' minds and creating delusions. He's also an ally to Killmonger.
Is it a stretch to envision Kendrick as this clairvoyant criminal? The green skin and monstrous eyes may be hard to picture, but Section 80's message of mental awareness and thought coercion align with Cadaver's own psychic brutality. There's already been an entire movie of Killmonger; it's not too much to believe that we could expand on some of his potential allies as well.
good kid, m.A.A.d city // Namor, The Submariner
Many people believe that Kendrick's coming out party to the industry started with GKMC, but two projects before it—Overly Dedicated and _Section.80—established him as one of the industry's hottest rising artists with more than an earful to give listeners. While GKMC rehashes elements of his life through revisiting childhood memories and adulthood mishaps, it's an album that explores the concept of power. Through exploring concepts like young lust and brutal gun violence, Kendrick shines a spotlight on the control that we have over our actions and our environment. On "Backseat Freestyle," a seemingly nonsensical collection of raps turns into a vigorous exercise of masculine domination bereft with monstrous production that is as powerful as beats get. The album itself shows how Kendrick manages to exalt the energy needed to withstand from the pull of the life of the streets. The power needed to walk the right path showcases a level of self-governance that should be applauded.
Whereas Killmonger was a dark reflection of T'Challa, Namor moreso aligns with the King of Wakanda's beliefs—well, at least prior to the events of Black Panther. Namor is the King of Atlantis, another highly advanced local removed from the evils of the world, and rules with an iron fist. He's not a traditional villain but, at one point in time, he was possessed by the Phoenix Force and had a hand in creating a huge tidal wave that killed thousands of Wakandans. Their epic battle would be the stuff of legends, two powerful leaders of secluded countries battling to the death.
To Pimp a Butterfly // Achebe
The three-year hiatus that Kendrick participated in after the release of good kid, m.A.A.d city only strengthened the powerful deliverance of his sermon. To Pimp a Butterfly is a masterpiece of dramatic irony, self-love, and theatrics that helps the album to transcend music itself. It's a movement of the magnitude that challenges the flow of the status quo. Funk samples, a tremendous amount of confidence, and an aesthetic that captured the political zeitgeist of the early 1990s rendered the project not only a welcome step above the critically acclaimed GKMC, it confirmed that the success of his previous album was no fluke.
Achebe embodies the fierceness that's apparent on TPAB. He sold his soul to Marvel's premier demonic entity Mephisto (read more on him below) and became a brilliant strategist, genius law school attendant, and otherworldly schemer. Kendrick's fiery delivery on "King Kunta," adrenalized with hard-hitting Afrocentric bars that cut through the rough production so crisply, harkens back to Achebe's own nihilistic pursuits, often willing to go the extra step to achieve his dastardly wishes. He once covered himself in explosives prior to confronting Black Panther. He starts an uprising in an African refugee camp which culminates with him naming himself as the leader of the provision government that eventually overtakes Wakanda. He's boldly fierce and seriously unapologetic. Of all of Kendrick's albums, perhaps To Pimp a Butterfly is the indicator that his drive places him on a dangerous road that leads to the ideologies of Achebe.
DAMN. // Mephisto
Fun fact: if you listen to all of DAMN. in sequential order, Kendrick Lamar's expression on the front is the reaction that you'll have afterwards. Contrary to initial glances, that isn't an expression of boredom; it's one of jaw-dropping proportions, but you're too shocked to move. You unknowingly settle for a slack-jawed daze into space as voracious raps and luxurious instrumentals flood your ear drums; Kendrick's heavy-handed ideals and emotional concepts crash into your head in an endless supply of waves of the same length. You're just stuck, for lack of better words. The phrase "DAMN." escapes your cracking lips, you've lost track of where you are and what time it is.
DAMN., above all things, is a concept album that lacks a concept, but reinforces one—if that makes sense. Its power centers around its vibrancy and ability to channel individual pieces of its puzzle into album-long sentiments about fierce emotion, strong energy, and powerful storytelling. It's his most powerful album so far and is a flag in the ground with which Kendrick's staked his claim as the best rapper in the game.
Wouldn't it make sense for Mephisto, Marvel's super powerful equivalent of Satan, to be an extension of DAMN.? He's an all-powerful, near-omnipotent ruler of a nether realm that amplifies the strongest of the emotions. He can shapeshift, alter time, manipulate memories, and has genius, otherworldly intellect. While Kendrick can't read minds, the compelling music of DAMN. manifests a wide range of serious emotion and is devilishly smart. Dye his hair red and get him a long, flowing cape to match his deadpan resting facial expression and you'll have one heck of a villain to challenge Black Panther, just as he did in the comics.