Civil rights activist and Black Panther, Fred Hampton was 21 when he was assassinated in his apartment during an FBI raid.
Although he was young, his legacy was already being established and that is why some 50 years later we are starting to learn more about the events that lead to his tragic murder. However, Hampton’s story is not the focus of the new Warner Bros. film, Judas and the Black Messiah (2021) directed by Shaka King. The film instead follows how William O’Neal (Lakeith Stanfield), a 17-year-old FBI informant infiltrated the Black Panther Party and along with FBI agent Roy Mitchell (Jesse Plemons) helped bring Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya) to his untimely death.
The film is a two-hour homage of sorts to late 60s Chicago and Hampton’s politics which in part entails calls for unity as a means to overcome capitalism and fascism in favor of socialism. In the film, there are several scenes of Hampton meeting with different leaders of rival gangs, handing out pamphlets about the Panthers’ free breakfast program, and some of Hampton’s speeches where he discusses his opposition toward the police force in the city. We also get a glimpse into Hampton’s relationship with his fiancée and fellow Black Panther and poet, Deborah Johnson (Dominique Fishback), who was eight months pregnant at the time of her fiancé’s assassination.
Amidst all those sequences of Hampton and the Panthers in their signature black berets and weaponry used to protect themselves against the police, are scenes of O’Neal informing the biggest police force (FBI) of the group’s every move. O’Neal gets paid to offer intel, something he initially is game for, but as consequences get more serious and we reach the climax of the film, where O’Neal is tasked with giving Hampton a sedative, hours before the raid, we see the culmination of the conflict O’Neal felt at being a snitch. It is important to note that O’Neal later died by suicide in 1990 when the depth of his involvement in the assassination plot was revealed.
To accompany such an important film, with such a dominant and well-known figure, there must be an equally dominating soundtrack. The 22-track album called, Judas and the Black Messiah: The Inspired Album, is a who’s who of rap and R&B artists with songs from Nipsey Hussle & Jay Z, Smino & Saba, Black Thought, Lil Durk, SiR, and many others. H.E.R.’s contribution to the album, “Fight For You” is currently shortlisted for a Best Original Song nomination at this year’s Oscars. Each song relates to the album’s theme: “Where There’s People, There’s Power” a message meant to inspire and inform today’s generation.
I was able to get a sneak peek of some of the album tracks Wednesday night at a special virtual screening and album release party. The event was hosted by some of the artists from the album, Smino, Dom Kennedy, Hit-Boy, Saba and Nas, who each gave a small introduction and spoke on their inspirations for their individual songs. The event then segued into an hour-long DJ set by famous Roots Crew member, Questlove. There was a mix of songs from the album, audio from Fred Hampton’s speeches, and other conscious rap songs that fit the theme of Judas and the Black Messiah. Also, during Questlove’s set, in the chat feature, guests were able to interact with some of the film’s actors, like Algee Smith and Dominique Fishback as well as producer Ryan Coogler.
Judas and the Black Messiah is currently streaming on HBO Max and will also be in select theatres for 31 days. Judas and the Black Messiah: The Inspired Album is currently streaming on all platforms.
Judas and the Black Messiah: The Inspired Album is executive produced by Hit-Boy, RCA’s SVP of A&R Dash Sherrod, Ryan Coogler and RCA’s SVP of Marketing/CEO of Six Course Inc. Archie Davis.
Judas and the Black Messiah: The Inspired Album track list:
01 Cointelpro / Dec. 4 – Chairman Fred Hampton Jr.
02 Fight For You – H.E.R.
03 EPMD – Nas
04 Welcome to America – Black Thought
05 What It Feels Like – Nipsey Hussle & Jay-Z
06 Broad Day – Hit-Boy
07 Plead the .45th – Smino & Saba
08 Somethin Ain’t Right – Masego ft. JID and Rapsody
09 Letter 2 U – BJ The Chicago Kid
10 On Your Mind – Lil Durk
11 Appraise – White Dave
12 All Black – G Herbo
13 I Declare War – Nardo Wick
14 No Profanity – Pooh Shiesty
15 Last Man Standing – Polo G
16 Respect My Mind – DOM KENNEDY
17 Revolutionary – G Herbo ft. Bump J
18 Teach Me – SiR
19 Contagious – SAFE & Kiana Ledé
20 Rich Nigga Problems – A$AP Rocky
22 Bonus: Black Messiah – Rakim