By Michael Kaiser
Every great movie needs an equally great soundtrack, and “Judas and the Black Messiah” provides just that.
“Judas” is a recently-released biographical movie that focuses on the American activist and chairman of the Chicago Black Panther Party, Fred Hampton (played by Daniel Kaluuya). William O’Neal (played by Lakeith Stanfield) is caught driving a stolen car across state lines and must choose between losing his freedom or becoming a counterintelligence operative for the FBI.
J. Edgar Hoover (played by Martin Sheen), the FBI Director at the time, viewed Hampton as a threat because of his influence and charisma, and wanted to subdue the Black Panther Party. O’Neal was threatened with felonies and coerced into becoming an informant for the FBI.
O’Neal proceeds to infiltrate the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party, reporting on Hampton and the Panther’s actions and whereabouts. These events ultimately lead to the assassination of Hampton, but the legacy of the Black Panthers lives on.
This film has already received multiple accolades, great reviews and well-deserved praise. I for one am grateful that the movie was accompanied by an amazing soundtrack.
Judas is composed of 22 songs with features from notable and prominent artists such as JAY-Z, Nipsey Hussle, A$AP Rocky, JID and Nas. The album pays tribute to Fred Hampton’s city by including some of Chicago’s most popular artists like G Herbo, BJ the Chicago Kid and Lil Durk. The album features impressive fresh talent too, including Pooh Shiesty, Nardo Wick and H.E.R..
The songs alternate between hip-hop and R&B, describing different topics such as life, love and issues pertaining to black Americans.
Particularly the song “What It Feels Like” surprises audiences by including a feature from the late rapper, Hussle, who died nearly two years before the movie and album’s release. Before his tragic and untimely death, Hussle was known for his community activism among oppressed groups in the inner-city of Los Angeles.
In “What It Feels Like” Hussle equates himself to a young Malcolm X. It is a fitting comparison considering how many people have been inspired by Hussle and all the good he did for his community in L.A.. This song also features JAY-Z, who returns after a short hiatus to make this song in collaboration with two of the biggest names in hip-hop today.
Towards the end of the album, A$AP Rocky makes an appearance in his song “Rich N**** Problems,” rapping about how he has worked hard to get to where he is today, but saying he sometimes regrets being famous because it can attract fake people and unwanted attention.
In “Welcome to America” Black Thought speaks out about racism and oppression in the U.S.. Accompanied by C.S. Armstrong and Angela Hunte, Black Thought describes how people of color in the U.S. have been continuously exploited since the nation’s founding, and preaches black excellence and solidarity.
Gabriella Wilson, better known as H.E.R., demonstrates her beautiful singing voice in “Fight For You,” a song about freedom obtained through the fight for equality.
One of my favorite songs on the album is “Somethin’ Ain’t Right” featuring JID and Rapsody. JID is, in my opinion, underrated and I am glad he is gaining more recognition because he truly deserves it. JID and Marlanna Evans, who goes by the name Rapsody, match their flows, and the vocals of the chorus by Masego tie the song together perfectly.
Judas does not only provide a great soundtrack, but it also sheds new light on the Black Panther Party by dispelling some of the lies that have been perpetuated about the party by the U.S. government.
There is an immense amount of hate- and fear-mongering surrounding the Black Panther Party. The U.S. government labeled them as a radical threat when in reality they have consistently banded together to improve their communities.
The Black Panther Party has established free lunch programs for school children, health clinics, food pantries and human rights for inmates during the COVID pandemic. Although the organization is often not accredited for its charity, it still continues to advocate for the African-American population. It is important to recognize all the good the Black Panther Party is doing and has done.
The movie provides a history lesson about events that aren’t normally taught in schools, while also entertaining the audience, which is one of the reasons I highly recommend this movie and album. Kaluuya and Stanfield demonstrate a brilliant performance once again, and the inspired album showcases an abundance of talent from a variety of artists.
“Judas” is currently available to watch in theaters or on HBO Max. You can listen to the album on Spotify, Apple Music or Soundcloud.
Featured Image via Judas and the Black Messiah: The Inspired Album album cover and edited by Andrea Mau via Canva