The Lion King roars into theaters today and Beyoncé’s new compilation album, The Lion King: The Gift, is now streaming on all major music platforms. This twenty-seven-track album features fourteen R&B and rap songs inspired by the film, with thirteen interludes featuring dialogue from the film. Many of the songs are Beyoncé solos, or at least feature her prominently on the song. Other artists included are Jay-Z, Blue Ivy Carter, Childish Gambino, Pharrell Williams, Kendrick Lamar, Tekno, Yemi Alade, Mr Eazi, Burni Boy, Salatiel, SAINt JHN, Wizkid, Tiwa Savage, Shatta Wale, Major Lazer, Nija, Tierra Whack, Moonchild Sanelly, 070 Shake, and Jessie Reyez. This album is released by Parkwood Entertainment, which is Beyoncé’s own company.
The interludes serve the purpose of connecting the songs to the film. In most cases, if you didn’t know the songs were on an album celebrating The Lion King, you would have no way of knowing they’re from this album. Most of the Beyoncé tracks feature some level of African style or influence, including some raps or chants in Afrikaans or Swahili, but many of them feel like an afterthought added in the mixing room later rather than an integral part of the song. It’s certainly a celebration of the culture that is a key part of The Lion King’s identity, but I think my expectations were too high for the level of influence this would have on the album. It’s weird hearing references to things like “Ramada Inn” on an album that carries The Lion King in its name.
The songs that are obviously inspired by the film include “Otherside,” a Beyoncé ballad that is somehow even more spiritual than “Spirit,” which is the last track on the album. “Otherside” features a beautiful floating piano melody and switches to Swahili towards the end of the song. “Don’t Jealous Me” by Tekno, Yemi Alade & Mr Eazi is one of only two tracks to reference animals including lions and monkeys and also uses Swahili, which leads to the word “Simba” in the track. Burna Boy provides the other track with an animal reference, hyenas in this case, on “JA ARA E.” The only track named after a character is “SCAR” by 070 Shake and Jessie Reyez, but his name is never mentioned in the song and it’s my pick for the most skippable track on the album.
Many of the themes in the rest of the songs are common for the artists or the genre in general. For example, Beyoncé’s songs reference motherhood, being a wife, and female empowerment, the latter certainly applies to her character of Nala. Other incongruous themes include celebrating big egos and living larger than life on “MOOD 4 EVA” and partying on “WATER.”
My favorite track is “BROWN SKIN GIRL” by Beyoncé, SAINt JHN, and Wizkid and featuring her daughter, Blue Ivy Carter. It has nothing to do with The Lion King, but it’s a fun celebration of their skin tone and is a sweet, uptempo bop that includes her daughter. Queen Bey has a few other memorable tracks, including the opening song “Bigger” and another early track, “Find Your Way Back.”
If you were expecting The Lion King: The Gift to be a fully realized tribute to the film the way Rhythm of the Pridelands was, you’re sure to be disappointed. But if you go into it expecting an African-influenced Beyoncé album with a lot of special guests and occasional Lion King references, you’ll have a better experience and come away from it feeling less cheated. The only real problem with the album is the title, which denotes a different kind of listening experience than the one offered here.
Alex has been blogging about Disney films since 2009 after a lifetime of fandom. He joined the Laughing Place team in 2014 and covers films across all of Disney’s brands, including Star Wars, Marvel, and Fox, in addition to books, music, toys, consumer products, and food. You can hear his voice as a member of the Laughing Place Podcast and his face can be seen on Laughing Place’s YouTube channel where he unboxes stuff.