When most people think of 2018’s Black Panther, one of the first things that come to mind is ‘All the Stars,’ performed by Kendrick Lamar and SZA. It felt like a piece of music that cemented the film as history in the making – something that you just had to be there to witness at that very moment in time. Of course, Black Panther would continue to build a grand name for itself with an incredible box office and the first 3 major Oscar wins for Marvel Studios. No other entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe has reached this kind of notoriety, so when it came to its sequel Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, filmmaker Ryan Coogler was faced with the impossible… but that’s why you obviously bring in Rihanna.
Aside from the album companion to Shang-Chi, which was co-produced by 88rising, no other MCU project has manajed to skyrocket with original music from top artists at its side. Black Panther started this trend for Marvel Studios, and Ryan Coogler was tasked to once again set the bar with his sequel. During the official press conference for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, the director and co-writer was able to explain how his team managed to bring megastar Rihanna out of her years-long hiatus for not just one but two new hit singles, ‘Lift Me Up’ and ‘Born Again.’ Coogler actually passed most of the credit to his Oscar-winning composer Ludwig Göransson, who was “a major factor” in making that connection thanks to his producing career.
Coogler was quick to admit that he understands why Rihanna has been absent from music, given her recent focus on fashion and make-up. “I feel like she’s given us all that you could ask for,” the filmmaker says. “But, the truth is, we were looking for a great artist who could tell the story of the film and embrace the themes, and present them to the audience in a different packaging. You know, that’s what Kendrick did for us so beautifully with the first film, and this film is different,” Coogler went on to explain. One of those themes can be seen with Queen Ramondo (Angela Bassett), a key player in the film who brings the women of Wakandan royalty together after the devastating loss of the nation’s king, and her son.
When speaking on the choice for a new singer, Ryan Coogler says that “it made sense that it would be a woman, it made sense that it could be someone who could speak to, not necessarily the words, but the feeling of motherhood.” Rihanna herself just became a mother for the first time this year, so Coogler thinks that also played a role in her decision to create new music for the film. “I think it timed up, that [Rihanna] was in that kind of space in her life” he says. It wasn’t until Rihanna saw an early trailer for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever that she officially said yes though. “When she saw the performances that everybody was putting down in the trailer, that was what put her over the edge and she said, I want to see this film, I want to see if I can figure this out.”
When it came to the actuall making of ‘Life Me Up’, in particular, Ryan Coogler shared all the big details; “We collaborated with this incredible singer, Tems. She and I wrote the words, Ludwig made the music, the music was recorded on, like, three different continents… some of it was recorded from the first Black Panther when Ludwig was in Senegal. So it came together in a lot of different ways.” Temilade Openiyi, professionally known as Tems, is a Nigerian singer and songwriter who fans will recognize from her cover of Bob Marley’s ‘No Woman, No Cry’ that was attached to the film’s first teaser trailer. Ryan Coogler, Tems, Rihanna, and Ludwig Göransson all share songwriting credit on ‘Lift Me Up’.
The director, with a heavy heart, additionally reavels that Rihanna perfomed ‘Lift Me Up’ in the late Chadwick Boseman’s memory. “The truth is, you know, once [Rihanna] played us the record, she said straight up, I did this for Chad.” Fans can now listen to both of Rihanna’s singles from Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, ‘Lift Me Up’ and “Born Again’, online, though it is obvioulsy recomended that you watch the film beforehand. The two pieces of music are used in very specific ways in the story, and it only adds to the weight of what Ryan Coogler and his team are trying to achieve with the film as a tribute to Chadwick Boseman and ode to Wakanda’s future.