BY ALLISON ARBUTHNOT//
The pioneers of the Black Panther Party who dedicated their lives to defending civil justice are the unsung heroes of the black liberation movement and a testament to the legacy of black excellence. Before watching Shaka King’s newest film, ‘Judas and the Black Messiah’, I didn’t know the story and galvanizing actions of Chicago-born revolutionary Fred Hampton. The film centers on the stories of two men through a dual lens of both Fred Hampton and Bill O’Neal, an FBI informant and Black Panther Party member who infiltrated the Chicago chapter to which he ultimately contributed to Hampton’s assassination. The film depicted the ways Hampton had dedicated his life and mission to serving the people— “Power anywhere there is people”, he repeated while delivering a speech before his death in 1969.
Like Hampton’s rally speeches, the songs in ‘Judas and the Black Messiah: The Inspired Album’ echoes his words and the movement through its artful lyricism by addressing the realities of the black American experience. The album features artists who share Hampton’s Chicago roots, as well as some of hip-hop and R&B’s biggest artists, such as JAY-Z, Nipsey Hussle, H.E.R., A$AP Rocky, and other established artists such as Smino, Saba, SiR, and Masego. The musicality of the whole album could be compared to that of the hip-hop Golden Age and the use of samples and stylistic soulful melodies like that of Marvin Gaye in the closing credits song “Fight for You” sung by H.E.R.
The 22-track album addresses the staunching reality of experiences surrounding police brutality, poverty, and violence. Nipsey Hussle and JAY-Z’s “What It Feels Like” reference Fred Hampton’s story, but also use the verses to address the failed police response during the January 6th Capitol Riots, “You let them crackers storm your Capitol, put they feet up on your desk/ And yet you talkin’ tough to me, I lost all my little respect.”
The film’s message doesn’t end with the credits, but instead is used as a method to continue Hampton’s message through music; much of like what we’ve seen before with Kendrick Lamar’s Black Panther album from 2018.