“Judas and the Black Messiah: The Inspired Album” is a fitting sonic addition to Fred Hampton’s legacy

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Here is a look at the cover art for “Judas and The Black Messiah: The Inspired Album” (Courtesy of RCA Records)

by Jacob Sullivan, Contributor

Albums inspired by movies can oftentimes be a hit or miss. 

A lot goes into the planning of the album. Who should be on it? Who should produce it? Will the substance of the separate forms of media mesh? 

RCA Records had to take on these challenges with the creation of “Judas and the Black Messiah: The Inspired Album.” It’s based on the young successes of Illinois Black Panther Party Chairman Fred Hampton and his eventual assassination due to infiltration. 

Hampton is most known for his leadership – organizing free-breakfast programs and creating a multiracial coalition with the surrounding white and brown communities – all while being under the legal drinking age. One of Hampton’s main beliefs is that there is “Power anywhere where there are people.” This sentiment is echoed by the collection of artists assembled throughout the album.

Each of the 22 tracks showcases a variety of voices: east coast legends like Jay-Z and Nas; a handful of contemporary midwest rappers like Polo G, BJ the Chicago Kid and Saba who grew up walking the same streets as Hampton; blossoming young flows from Southern talent hubs like Memphis (Pooh Sheisty) and Atlanta (JID); and seasoned west coast artists like H.E.R., Dom Kennedy and the late Nipsey Hussle. 

This collective of talent combines to create a sonic journey that matches the fire and vigor of Hampton’s legacy.

The opening track “Cointelpro/Dec 4” has Fred Hampton, Jr. delivering a spoken-word piece over ominous, droning production. Hampton, Jr. goes into detail about the Cointelpro tactics that took away his father before he was able to meet him. The next track is “Fight For You” by H.E.R., a triumphant, soulful track that was the first single from the album. Track three sees Nas once again teaming up with Hit-Boy, fresh off of their Grammy-nominated King’s Disease from 2020. 

“Welcome to America” showcases an urgent, gospel chorus production with incredible vocals from C.S. Armstrong and Angela Hunte. The track also features three top-notch Black Thought verses. 

His technical talent is put on display as he touches on the black experience in America, ending with the declaration “In America where on black men, it’s open season.” 

Following this is Jay-Z and Nipsey Hussle’s collaboration “What It Feels Like.” A pairing that excited many but very few saw coming. 

Hussle and Hov both offer militant verses. Hussle confidently states his similarity to Malcolm X, being the “leader of this movement out this b—-.” In his verse, Jay-Z makes note of his birthday: “I arrived on the day Fred Hampton got mur-, hol’ up. Assassinated, just to clarify further.” Hov makes note of how he will continue the late chairman’s vision saying “S— ain’t gonna stop ‘cause y’all spilled blood.”

A few tracks later is Smino and Saba’s earworm song “Plead the .45th” The infectious production is juxtaposed by the artists trading verses that detail realities plagued by police harassment and brutality. 

BJ The Chicago Kid shows off his smooth vocals on the ninth track, “Letter 2 U”. A romantic turn compared to the majority of tracks before, which were much more politically charged. The change of pace is welcome though, with BJ channeling vocals similar to Chicago-great Sam Cooke.

“All Black” by G Herbo returns the listeners to the brash, radical sound that Chicago has shaped through activism and music alike. 

Nardo Wick reinforces that aggression with the song “I Declare War.” The up-and-coming Wick details his loss of patience during the fight against racism. His thought process is detailed, stating “They despise we elevated, peace, we tried to advocate it.” 

The following track sees Pooh Sheisty delivering a straight-to-the-point verse on “No Profanity”. The song starts with audio of Hampton articulating every races’ need for peace. Soon after, Sheisty lays down a standout feature, perfectly floating his laid-back vocals over the beat which features a somber piano line.

G Herbo and Bump J’s song “Revolutionary” is another standout track, with G Herbo outdoing his earlier feature on “All Black.” 

Herbo gives the listeners an impassioned performance, describing his anxieties and why that drives him to be armed. Herbo also supplies a strong chorus, emboldening all listeners as if they are following him into battle: “Stand like a man, do you understand? Create a fist from your hand, do you understand? And never quit on your plans, do you understand? We can’t get rich off this land, do you understand?”

The final five tracks include A$AP Rocky delivering one of his best features in years on “Rich N—- Problems”. SAFE and Kiana Ledé also come together to make another infectious romantic tune on “Contagious.” 

A bonus track featuring Rakim titled “Black Messiah” has The God MC walk us through the life of Fred Hampton. Starting in 1948, quickly realizing the injustices that surrounded him, so he decided to fight back. Unfortunately, that led to his assassination. Instead of sadness, Rakim ends the album channeling wisdom on Hampton’s behalf. He states “If he could speak from the grave, Fred Hampton would say this: ‘You can kill a black panther, but the panther still exists.’”

“Judas and The Black Messiah: The Inspired Album” was a great listen. Working off the legacy of a generational leader like Hampton, each artist was able to craft their unique contribution that compliments the memory of Hampton. 

My only criticism is that there were a few minor pacing issues. Besides that, this is an album that can stand separately from the film it is inspired by. 

It is a piece of art that people will remember and revisit with an appreciation for years to come, just like the revolutionary it is based on.

9/10

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