Rihanna, the forthcoming second instalment in the Black Panther universe, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever and the very dearly departed Chadwick Boseman – this is the trinity from which the spectacle that is “Lift Me Up” emanates.
A thing’s value resides in the hands of its users. Culturally, spiritually and cosmically, if those three elements are crucial to you, it’s likely that the song, which belongs to the larger home that is the Black Panther: Wakanda Forever soundtrack, will land with the force that heralds mountains-moving revelations. It’s true for me, and, undoubtedly, for many other people.
What amplifies the blast radius of this particular revelation is that it owes its very existence to the monumentality of its three respective empowering forces, which, in their own ways, inspire progressive vibrations in the cultural whirlpool including and over and above their contributions to the song. The significance of the film and how majestically – and sincerely – it elevates minority voices cannot be overstated. For his role in that very narrative, and for his upstanding life as an actor, role model and beacon of hope, Chadwick Boseman’s legacy and shadow will continue to be venerated.
Then, there’s Rihanna.
This is the first song to bear her name in the six years since the release of her eighth album Anti. Hear me out: I have felt her absence profoundly in those six years. So, to receive her in the way that we have, for the spirit and occasion that she lends her voice to and is a part of, is tantamount to having prayers answered and wishes fulfilled. And expectations more – superlatively more – than gratified.
There’s something about this iteration of Black Panther that makes me tear up every time I watch the trailer. Beyond the optics attached it and the fact that its slow-mo editing is precision-engineered to elicit that very response, I owe my reaction to the overall gravity I attach to it. The song is similarly that panoramic a vista of catharsis: It inspires huge feelings about huge matters – and the stakes are life, death and Rihanna.
“Lift me up / Hold me down / Keep me close / Safe and sound”, Rihanna coos, lifting the curtain on the experience. That voice, though oft-heard, sounds new, newly regal, newly charged with life and power, in this context. Draped in the flowing velvet of Ludwig Göransson piano, her voice pulses with a warmth both sensual and spiritual. With Rihanna, it’s so easy for the two to be conflated, ethereality and earthiness collapsed and melded into a gorgeously soulful singularity in the crucible of her always-luscious, eternally-dynamic, instantly recognisable and one-of-a-kind voice. So, by the time she ushers “Hold me down”, the second line of the whole song, tears flood my eyes.
I cannot help it – this is the sum total of Black Panther, Chadwick Boseman and Rihanna. By now, it should be obvious whom my bias favours, but it’s undeniable that her glow is bolstered by that of the former two.
“Lift Me Up” is written by Rihanna herself, as well as Göransson, Coogler and Tems, the head-turning, time-stopping Nigerian singer, whom, it won’t be a stretch to say Rihanna influenced. It’s a quivering love letter to Chadwick Boseman, a toast to his legacy and an appeal to his love, protection and guidance. And it’s to the utmost credit of all its authors that it absolutely luxuriates in the sincerity of its message instead of being weighed down by it.
Though its piano-and-string-led momentum is measured, it soars. It soars on spirit. Its words have wings because of Rihanna’s voice, which, in step with the care-full production, is mined for the full range of its soul-soothing beauty. It’s obvious and it’s true; it’s love, loss and life.
It’s that rare eulogy that's a hymn of the life of its subject that radiates outward as ever-giving love.
It’s that rare cultural artefact whose passion embodies its purpose.
Listen to it below.