By Eóin Donnelly
Stop what you’re doing. New Starboy and Kung Fu Kenny alert! After SZA-featuring ‘All The Stars’ and Jay Rock’s brazen ‘King’s Dead‘, ‘Pray For Me’ is the third single from the upcoming soundtrack for the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Black Panther, curated entirely by Kendrick Lamar. It also marks the second edition in an increasingly fruitful partnership- the first being ‘Sidewalks’ on Starboy- between the Best Rapper Alive and the current King of RnB.
Off name power alone ‘Pray For Me’ is a near-certain smash hit. At least as good as ‘Sidewalks’, the droning club rhythm gives stylistic immediacy to a song that oozes more substance with each listen. True to their monikers, Starboy & Kung Fu Kenny’s new single could soundtrack a karate battle in space. £10,000 worth of Botox will not stop your face from extreme contortion two minutes and eight seconds in. Early contender for beat-switch of the year. For sure, The Weeknd is the best vocalist in pop right now. It’s entirely possible that ‘Killing Me Softly With His Song’ was written by a cyborg from the future who heard Trilogy. Has a voice so angelic ever sounded this menacing? Even from the pit of bacchanalian excess his voice soars through pitches like a bluebird in spring. ‘Pray For Me’ is a vibrant Starboy production with a melancholic House of Balloons edge, the quintessential chiaroscuro marriage of light and darkness where Weeknd shines brightest.
As for Kendrick, his verse is a rhyme saviour’s impassioned plea for help. HUMBLE as ever and true to the theme of the film, he implores the listener to look in the mirror for their hero. While The Weeknd sounds dangerous, Kendrick’s delivery is of a man in danger. Album by album, Grammy snub after Grammy snub, temptation onto temptation, Kendrick’s halo is less intact than ever before. Piety can only last so long in lieu of salvation. His flow echoes DAMN. warm-up ‘The Heart Part 4.’ The verse’s opening couplet “I fight the world, I fight you, I fight myself/I fight God, just tell me how many burdens left” could be his epitaph. Atop forebodingly monstrous production, Kendrick paints a vivid picture of impending apocalypse- à la Untitled 01– amid unprecedented political turmoil. Martyrdom is not only predicted but embraced: “Rapture is comin’/It’s all prophecy and if I gotta be sacrificed for the greater good, then that’s what it’s gotta be.” DAMN. Is Kendrick going to end up just like 2Pac?
For a track with such heavy subject matter, ‘Pray For Me’ sure gets me pumped for a night out. In a similar vein to Lil Uzi Vert’s ‘XO TOUR Llif3’ and the overall pop zeitgeist, it is an escapist beast of a track that confirms existential crisis and partying are often inextricably linked. Moreover, collaborative albums are an increasing trend that is yet to reap artistic rewards, with Young Thug & Future, 21 Savage & Offset, Big Sean & Metro Boomin and Travis Scott & Quavo all failing to conjure up album-length heat in 2017. If Abel Tesfaye & Kendrick Lamar released an album you wouldn’t see me for a month. The spiritual redemption narrative that comprises so much of Kendrick’s discography is a perfect companion to Weeknd’s sporadically sensitive descent into debauchery. We need that joint album. I even have a name for it- Cain & Abel. You know, like Adam & Eve’s sons. Thematically, this song would be an easy sell as an opening single. Hollywood needs me like Kendrick needs your prayers.
The full soundtrack for Black Panther will be released next Friday February 9, with the film released in U.K. cinemas on February 13. I’m praying for more quality like this.