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Smooth Bananas: ‘Judas and the Black Messiah: The Inspired Album’

The rap inspiration album to go with the movie tells the story of Fred Hampton, the former leader of the Black Panther Party in the 1980s. 

The album, inspired by the film written and directed by Shaka King, has 22 tracks all taking direct inspiration from “Judas and the Black Messiah.” The album is approximately 65 minutes long and features performances by some of rap’s greatest heavy hitters. Artists such as H.E.R, Jay-Z, and even Fred Hampton Jr, the political activist’s only son who consulted on the film. 

Although none of the songs actually appear in the film, the album takes the approach of both appealing to the mass music listener and accurately representing the revolutionary ideals of the Black Panther Party’s leader. This is even represented in the selection of artists to collaborate on the album. The likes of Lil Durk and H.E.R. are certainly big names in current rap but the album also includes more recent breakout artists like Polo G and Pooh Shiesty. Fred Hampton is represented well in the album by featuring artists that are from his hometown of Chicago, such as Rakim and the late Nipsey Hussle. 

That being said, many of the themes portrayed in the lyrics are distinctly anti-Hampton. Hampton was a fervent anti-capitalist and had no issue criticizing his own people who worshipped the almighty dollar at the expense of others. His primary goal was to uplift working people and open their eyes to the horrors they are subjected to. The album starts to feel less like an homage and more like exploitation. The album does have several good hits, many of which are catchy and memorable. One such track comes from the relatively unknown Nardo Wick. The rapper’s presentation on “I Declare War” most accurately exhibits the incredible power and charisma of Fred Hampton. Others on the album such as G Herbo, Bump J, and Polo G, all natives of Chicago, rail against police brutality, systemic racism and generational poverty. Pooh Shiesty’s track “No Profanity” uses beats that utilize samples of Fred Hampton’s voice that plays up the themes of the film very well. It talks very compellingly about betrayal by those close to you. 

The album also suffers from poor sequencing and lackluster production and mixing. Otherwise stellar artists like Lil Durk and H.E.R. really struggle in this presentation. Black Thought provides some excellent rap on the track “Welcome to America” but the song’s overall lazy form and predictable twists and turns just lead the listener to tune out. The album also features a couple love songs for whatever reason that feel quite disconnected from everything else on the album. 

The album starts to feel like an ego stroke at moments rather than an honor to Fred Hampton’s legacy as he fought for equality of all Americans, the so-called “Rainbow Coalition.” Most of the tracks edge on achieving greatness in their thematic content but fall decidedly short so as not to upset any lighter sensibilities, a move that is decidedly not Hampton-like. “Judas and the Black Messiah: The Inspired Album” receives a C rating. 

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