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Roll Panther: How Kendrick Lamar and the Marvel Superhero Won the National Title Game

The rapper was the championship’s first-ever halftime performer, and he threw to the newest trailer of ‘Black Panther,’ which we could not be more ready for

Marvel/Getty Images/Ringer illustration

In the span of about 30 minutes during halftime at the College Football Playoff National Championship, in Atlanta, Kendrick Lamar performed four songs and ESPN premiered the third Black Panther trailer. Suddenly, we were worlds away from a big and showy pregame ceremony where President Donald Trump was slowly corralled to midfield for the national anthem by frightened ROTC kids.

“And here is Kendrick Lamar performing cuts from his new album … Damn.,” said the public address announcer.

Kendrick performed his set from outside the stadium, and I don’t think we need to make too much of that since he didn’t. He was chewing gum the whole time, which upped the degree of difficulty, but the performance itself was clean, unfussy, and sort of apolitical, save for the stuff you have to glean from the lyrics, or infer, given the platform and the Moment In Time.

All of this represented a series of firsts; there has never been a national championship halftime performer, because there’s never been a national championship halftime performance. That being the case, you might have anticipated the kind of showing that would get Geraldo Rivera to lose his shit on Fox News the next morning—Kendrick is the first performer, and so the first rapper, and this was the first time that “SEE, YOUSA-YOUSA-YOUSA-BITCH” was heard on national television, sung in unison by wide-eyed youths in assorted Georgia and Bama gear, forgetting, if briefly, about the game. As fun as it might’ve been to imagine this was all directed at a certain person, the fun started and ended with that projection: Lamar doesn’t seem like the type to go the Dixie Chicks route — he would’ve done so by now, I think— and that certain person in question had already left the premises. Rivera might still lose his shit anyway.

Lamar tied a bow on his set by barking, “Kendrick Lamar. Black Panther,” and that, too, was a declarative statement, not a political one. He was throwing to the newest trailer of the movie whose soundtrack he produced, and has already made one song for, although “All the Stars” — while great! — is a soundtrack original that sort of sounds like a soundtrack original.

Let me be clear: ESPN is owned by ABC, which is owned by Disney, which owns Marvel, which produced Black Panther, and Disney is using one of its own massively televised events to market that movie. I’m fully aware that these corporations are conspiring to sell me something. And I’m buying it. This is a Marvel superhero movie about colonialism, and it has a black director and a mostly black cast, with music by Kendrick Lamar, and it’s dropping during Black History Month. I’m buying all of that shit.

The new Black Panther trailer, which teased the February 16 release, featured gorgeous overhead shots of Wakanda, cuts of Chadwick Boseman’s deliberate, kingly stride, and glimpses of Martin Freeman’s sure-to-be-perfectly neurotic Everett K. Ross. I was grateful for all of that in the first two trailers, but I needed to know what kind of Erik Killmonger Michael B. Jordan was going to be. As it turns out: sufficiently vengeful, petty, and convinced that he’s right — or at least I hope for all of those things. I’d also like more hairstyle risks like this one, but it won’t be the end of the world if there aren’t.

Michael B. Jordan with his hair sticking up Marvel

I’m just as convinced as I was last year that this movie is going to be A1, by the way. Perhaps more so. I don’t need to remind you that this is a Black Panther movie directed by Ryan Coogler, do I?

Let’s just all take a few quiet moments to think about the ATV scene in Creed. Think about the dirt bikes on their hind legs, tearing through the streets, while Meek Mill’s CAPS LOCK voice slices through the exhaust trails: “LORD KNOWS I’M FILTHY RICH, ALL THIS ICE IS LIKE FIFTY BRICKS.” Think about how upward of 20 people altruistically join in on Michael B. Jordan’s morning jog, which turns into an extraordinarily determined sprint at around what could’ve realistically been mile nine. Think about his Nike Tech fleece hood waving triumphantly in the wind.

ARE YOU AMPED? YES?

OK. Good. Now imagine that instead of running through North Philly he’s running through Wakanda, to the tune of a previously unheard Kendrick Lamar song that features Vince Staples. Like “All the Stars,” it’s a soundtrack original that sounds like a soundtrack original, one that might not stick to the ribs once the excitement wears off. I guess you could say the same about Kendrick’s halftime performance.

But one thing’s for sure in either case: It’s far better than the alternative of not Kendrick Lamar.