Fred Hampton's short life still resonates.
Someone who fought against a system he viewed as unjust, his death robbed the United States of a potent young leader, someone who – if he had lived – could well have enacted substantive change not just in his home city of Chicago, but the country as a whole.
The story of Fred Hampton – or rather, the man who betrayed him – is broadcast in new film Judas And The Black Messiah, a work that will, hopefully, amplify awareness of the issues that the young Black Panther campaigned on.
Executive produced by Hit-Boy, the soundtrack is a gilded selection of hip-hop greats, passing through the generations to signify the crucial impact Fred Hampton had on Black American culture. It's a project in keeping with potent soundtrack statements of our time – think Black Panther, The Lion King – but one that works in its own universe.
Drawing on a number of artists with links to Hampton's home city of Chicago – BJ The Chicago Kid, Polo G, and Saba, for example – they do miss a trick by failing to centre the Windy City's musical landscape in amongst the score as a whole. Equally, the tracklisting is extremely male, a creative decision that doesn't reflect Hampton's own commitment to gender solitary within revolutionary politics. That said, any soundtrack that includes such highs as the brand new Nas cut 'EPMD' should be forgiven.
A diverse and multi-faceted record propelled by incredible moments, Judas And The Black Messiah: The Inspired Album blends cutting edge styles with a deeper awareness of the role art can and should play in our lives. So there's a lux H.E.R. vocal on 'Fight For You' and an incredible workout from Masego on 'Somethin' Ain't Right', while the lyrics of both cut straight to the bone.
G Herbo's 'All Black' is an anthemic statement, while Smino & Saba's 'Plead The .45th' is a beautiful homage to Fred Hampton's life and legacy from two of the very best at work in Chicago right now.
At 22 tracks, the record struggles to maintain its coherency, and could perhaps do with a more focussed sensibility – that said, late tracklisting moments such as SiR's 'Teach Me' and Dom Kennedy's 'Respect My Mind' means that there is scarcely a chance to hit 'skip'.
Ending with a bonus cut from Rakim, 'Judas And The Black Messiah: The Inspired Album' is an emphatic show of force that frequently taps into outright brilliance. As an album it's not without fault, but as a cultural event it's largely without peer.
Words: Robin Murray
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