On the heels of Prince’s curation of a soundtrack based on 1989’s “Batman” and Kendrick Lamar’s “Black Panther” project, Beyoncé took advantage of her role voicing Nala in Disney’s new “The Lion King” adaptation and produced a celebratory album, pushing today’s African creatives to the forefront.
“This soundtrack is a love letter to Africa, and I wanted to make sure we found the best talent from Africa, and not just use some of the sounds and did my interpretation of it,” Beyoncé said in a recent interview with ABC News. “We’ve kind of created our own genre and I feel like the soundtrack is the first soundtrack where it becomes visual in your mind. The soundtrack is more than just the music, because each song tells the story of the film.”
“The Lion King: The Gift” features talented musicians from Nigeria, South Africa, Cameroon and Ghana as well as artists from the United States. The lyrical content of the project fits with a lot of themes Beyoncé has touched on in previous installments, but the music also connects directly to the film itself. Each song is guided by an interlude from the film, whether it’s a soundbite from the regal Mufasa, or from the ever so hilarious Timon and Pumbaa.
Having the legend that is James Earl Jones start the album with his recognizable voice is a perfect way to set the tone. Serving as a chilling opener, “Bigger” features only Beyoncé and proves to be one of her best tracks to date –– lyrically and vocally. Much like Mufasa does to Simba in the movie, Beyoncé is telling listeners to see themselves as part of a bigger collective. The song effortlessly blends themes of the movie and Beyoncé’s own life experiences. The theatrics of the song and reflective nature of her delivery is truly otherworldly.
“Find Your Way Back” switches to Simba’s journey of realizing his purpose and taking his place as king with his father as his guiding force. This more laid-back track also alludes to Beyoncé’s relationship with her father and the valuable lessons he’s taught her when it comes to navigating her life and career. Using phrases such as “circle of life” and “remember who you are” is an obvious connection to the movie, but it’s done in a very tasteful way.
“Don’t Jealous Me,” “My Power” and “Already” are examples of how the project highlights the wide range of styles these African artists have popularized. “Don’t Jealous Me” –– a collaboration between Nigerian artists Tekno, Yemi Alade and Mr Eazi –– backs a colossal beat and presents itself as a song to get amped up to with its chanting chorus. Applying a similar style with a different twist, “My Power” –– featuring Tierra Whack, Moonchild Sanelly and Nija –– is a track that could have easily been in the iconic battle between Simba and Scar with its operatic nature. The self-assured vocals of Beyoncé blended with Ghanian artist Shatta Wale and the production of Major Lazer in “Already” has hints of dancehall and displays an irresistible groove.
Reminiscent of Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s “Everything Is Love” project last year, “Mood 4 Eva” sounds like it could’ve fit in with previous tracks “Nice” and “Boss.” The Carters–– backed by the production of DJ Khaled and co-star Childish Gambino –– blend gratitude with a swarm of rightful confidence as the queen states unapologetically: “Why would you try me? Why would you bother?/I am Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter.”
The most celebratory moment on the project centers around the joyous “Brown Skin Girl.” Beyoncé, SAINt JHN and Wizkid –- along with Beyoncé’s oldest daughter Blue Ivy Carter –– use this breezy track to empower black women and to encourage them to embrace who they are. With references to Naomi Campbell, Lupita Nyong’o and Kelly Rowland aside, the third verse almost feels like Beyoncé is speaking directly to her daughter as she sings: “If ever you are in doubt, remember what mama told you.” The outro of Blue Ivy singing the chorus is heartwarming as it extends the infinitely valuable message of the song to a new generation.
“The Lion King: The Gift” is yet another example of Beyoncé taking a vision to the next level. It’s refreshing to see an artist who thrives in a collaborative environment and relentlessly focuses on making music that rejects the reliance of being trendy –– eyeing on the ultimate goal of timelessness. Hopefully, this project will not only encourage listeners to explore all the featured artists and their bodies of work, but to also fall in love with the story of “The Lion King” all over again.