“Judas and The Black Messiah” Soundtrack Can’t Seem To Save Itself

John Dawes, Entertainment Writer

Director Shaka King’s most recent film “Judas and The Black Messiah” aims to tell Fred Hampton and Bill O’Neal’s story. The story is about O’Neal being tasked with weakening and eventually having to kill Hampton, the head of the Black Panther Party in Chicago, in accordance with the F.B.I.  

The film came a 22 track, one hour, and an eight minute album that is “inspired” by the film but never directly in it. And while an argument could be made about the film’s commercialism of the Black Panther Party for a more accessible story and broader audience reach, there’s an apparent disconnect between Hampton’s true beliefs and the album’s half baked message. In other words, there’s missed potential. 

To start on a simple note, this album is paced semi poorly, whether that’s the almost one minute spent on an outro on “Fight for You,” the fact “EPMD” is not even three minutes long yet had a 40ish second outro or looped choirs playing for the outro of “What It Feels Like.” There’s so much unnecessary time wasted in this album just letting an instrumental play out for way too long and the artist not doing anything for that time. And the album shows that when an artist uses the track’s run time to its fullest strength it goes well. Hit Boy gets in stride and delivers packed and introspective bars on “Broad Day.” 

It’s also an album that cohesively is easy to listen to, as each song flows seamlessly into each other such as the transition from “On Your Mind” to “Apprise” flows so well into each other. They carry momentum into each other how a baton is passed in a track relay, but it’s bloated. With an absurd 22 tracks one would hope at least the tracks are all cohesive in addressing the Black struggle and the true ambitions of the Black Panther movement, but the album can’t even focus on that. 

Of course, it’s great to see artists like Jay Z talk about the racist implications of the Capital riots saying, “You know they hate when you become more than they expect/You let them crackers storm your Capitol, put the feet up on your desk/And yet you talkin’ tough to me, I lost all my little respect.”  

But the album in the same song features an unused verse from the late rapper Nipsey Hussle from years ago that doesn’t connect with any core ideas in the movie Hampton’s morals. It’s things like that that make it seems like this was simply a collage of hip hop’s most recognizable faces and not an opportunity to dive into the Black Panthers and Hamptons philosophy. 

Credit where credit is due, sometimes the album delivers. Polo G shows a surprising amount of maturity, lyrical focus, and sense of scale on “Last Man Standing,” talking about everything from high school dropouts who are forced to sell drugs and hustle to survive. Or the anxiety of having the police at your door and praying for your life. It’s infuriating that a song like this exists, and then there are unnecessary love songs like “Letter 2 U” by BJ the Chicago Kid that fills space with your run-of-the-mill “Baby I want you” type of music.  

The album is strained in this idea of commercial appeal and these powerful political messages about Frank Hampton’s  core beliefs and doesn’t commit fully to either of them.    

At the very least, the production stays consistent enough to where it’s inoffensive. Samples of Hampton’s speech’s, a sample of”Give Me the Loot”by The Notorious B.I.G, shows up next too generics choirs to boost commercial appeal. Consistently using  unnecessary choirs and powerful but hollow horns to make vapid songs feel politically powerful, the album also has an issue of shoving the voices too low in then mix like on “Fight For You.” It’s the equivalent of putting H.E.R.’s voice into gravel, but the production may be an eye roll occasionally but not enough to be an eyesore. 

To say this album has its moments would be fair. The lack of a cohesive message and bloated tracklist makes this album feel less about a companion piece to “Judas and The Black Messiah” or as a greater fleshing out of Hampton’s ideas, and more of a cobbling of just good enough songs that all share the theme of Black empowerment. Score: 4 out of 10