Fred Hampton was a 21-year-old, pro-Black socialist, West Side Chicagoan, and chairman of the Illinois Black Panther Party. Judas and the Black Messiah: The Inspired Album is a rough attempt at using popular music to market a multi-million dollar movie about him. 

When telling the story of an anti-capitalist revolutionary like Hampton, those two things don’t sound good next to each other. Unfortunately, not sounding good next to each other is a theme that lasts throughout the album itself, which was released on Friday, Feb. 12.

When Chicago rapper Noname decided not to hop on the album once she saw the film— after initially expressing interest in joining the album’s roster— many of us raised a collective eyebrow on social media. 

Why wouldn’t Noname — the unashamed anti-capitalist Chicago rapper — not want to rap on an album about Fred Hampton? In Noname’s own words: “Most of his politics were stripped from that film.” The album turned out to be a 22-track realization of Noname’s exact concern. 

Not only does the album do a bare minimum to invoke the messaging of the film or the politics of Fred Hampton and the Black Panther Party, but its sparse use of Chicago-based talent leaves much to be desired. 

Since the advent of Chicago gospel and blues, Chicago has been a hub for the evolution of Black music, especially Black music that speaks to the Black American consciousness. 20th century artists such as Mahalia Jackson, the Staple Singers, Muddy Waters and Curtis Mayfield, along with hip-hop contemporaries including Vic Mensa, Chance the Rapper, Bella Bahhs and Ric Wilson, are all a part of that Chicago tradition. 

Instead, with Hit-Boy doing the executive producing on Judas and the Black Messiah: The Inspired Album, the project gives more Billboard 200 rap album curated by Black Hollywood elites, when it could be giving radical Black art inspired by a Chicago freedom fighter. Rappers such as Lupe Fiasco, Common and Twista could have helped to build that aesthetic with ease, as each of their respective discographies already lean in the direction of relatively woke.


The album opens with the impassioned spoken-word of Chairman Fred Hampton’s son, Fred Jr. Opening with the command “Heads up, eyes open and fists clenched,” his track “Cointelpro/Dec 4” is half history lesson, half rallying cry and prepares the listener to digest some revolutionary, pro-Black art throughout the project. 

The Golden Globe-nominated single, “Fight For You,”  follows right after to complete a promising opening one-two. H.E.R.’s extra clean modern R&B vocals lure you into the 1970s themed soundscape populated by a groovy bass line and bongos. Globe nod for this one is no stretch. 

The album hits it’s first bump pretty early on with “EPMD.” Nas and Hit-Boy reunite on the track as the titular duo to create a record riddled with mafia references that make it more appropriate for a gangster flick rather than a movie about the Black Panther Party. 

Nas starts the song off with a chorus about eating at a Michelin-starred restaurant while— for some reason— counting $1 million in cash, then jumps into his verse rattling off the names of New York City mob affiliates Arnold Rothstein and John Gotti. These are just a couple of the aggressions this song commits. 

Braggadocious bars from Nas and Hit-Boy on an album inspired by the harrowing true story of how white supremacy used a Black man to dismantle the Chicago chapter of the Black Panther Party is out of pocket for obvious reasons, not the least of which is the fact that the proletariat Hampton fought for probably couldn’t afford the “platinum cars” with “oxblood seats” that Nas raps about here. 

This utter disregard for anything even friendly to the beliefs of Fred Hampton and the proletariat revolution he fought for, comes up a multiple times throughout the album including Dom Kennedy and Hit-Boy’s respective solos, “Respect My Mind”  and “Broad Day.” “Respect my Mind,” was one of the tracks previewed during a virtual album listening party on Feb. 10. The “I like when they do it with no teeth,” line was just as off-putting then as it is now.

Meanwhile on “Broad Day,” Hit-Boy gives an effort that sounds like he’s trying to make the album his, in the worst way. “Scared money don’t make no money/ Diamonds from Cheyenne in my necklace, shit is stunning,” he raps in the first of four verses.

The Nipsey Hustle and Jay Z track, “What it Feels Like,” rightfully caused confusion on social media from folks with even an elementary understanding of Black Panther Party politics, because it features two Black capitalists spitting millionaire bars over a cushy Rozay-inspired luxury rap beat.

There’s even a song on here called “Rich Nigga Problems,” performed by A$AP Rocky. Seeing Rocky on the tracklist was concerning, given his history of problematic comments about the movement for Black lives. In a 2015 interview with Time Out New York, when asked about Ferguson, Rocky said: “I’m A$AP Rocky. I did not sign up to be no political activist. I wanna talk about my motherfuckin’ lean, my best friend dying, girls, my jiggy fashion and my inspirations in drugs. I live in fucking Soho and Beverly Hills. I can’t relate.” 

So on Judas and the Black Messiah: The Inspired Album, when the man lunges onto the track with “Bout twelve bad hoes in my section like Vegas/ A few of ’em strangers, a few of ’em famous,” it raises questions about what the goal of the project is.

When tracks like those sit next to Black Thought giving a three-and-a-half minute long sermon about the plight of Black Americans — backed by C.S. Armstrong and Angela Hunter vocals — on “Welcome to America,” and Nardo Wick’s solo energy record  “I Declare War,” which gives big “Fuck the Police” vibes, it makes you wonder what prompt were the artists given when asked to participate in the project. 

The contributions from White Dave and Pooh Sheisty would have you believe that the prompt was to write a contemporary rap song about the harm of white supremacy, on “Appraise,” and “No Profanity,” respectively. 

Masego, J.I.D., and Rapsody seem to have been asked to write something while the movie played on a loop in the studio the way that their lyrics very directly reflect the messaging and events of the film. J.I.D. opens his verse painting the scene of the night of Hampton’s murder rapping, “I lay my sword, my lady lays upon my chest/ It’s been a crazy war, the devil’s bangin’ on my door/ My dear, my dear, my dear, I hear the shots ring, lay on the floor.”

While the Chicago artists mostly seem to be present to meet some (probably imaginary) quota, they each deliver solid offerings in their contributions to the project. BJ the Chicago Kid and Lil Durk fall into the R&B category of the album’s tracklist, where each artist— including SiR and SAFE— seems to simply have been told to submit one of their own album throwaways for consideration. 

Each of their songs creates a little island in the middle of the tracklist where their musical stylings create a distraction from the fact that nothing they’re singing about has to do with the film or Fred Hampton.

On “Last Man Standing,” Polo G breezes through the album’s best verse only to top it with his second one. “Like why the fuck I gotta prove to you my black ass matters?/ No, really, why the fuck we still marchin’?/ Badge abusers still sparkin’/ ‘Cause my skin color, I’ve seen real darkness.” Polo skates in perhaps the most seamless marriage of the artists’ individual style, and Hampton-inspired writing.

G Herbo got two opportunities to contribute to the album with both a song that would do numbers on one of his own solo projects in “All Black,” as well as the Bump J assisted “Revolutionary,” where his second verse is an album standout. 

In what is truly an Hampton-inspired track, Herbo spits over the album’s hardest instrumental, “Like the Panthers, I just wanna see us all win/ I mean all the people like me, but not with cars and nice things/ All the hustlers on the street with Nikes and white tees.” The sweet soul sampling and crashing drums are the perfect accompaniment to G Herbo and J’s emotional delivery.


The Smi and Saba track “Plead the .45th,” was an easy bet to be a standout considering their studio chemistry. Saba’s verse sounds like it could’ve come from a young Panther: “A couple of ’em killed by the badge at ease/ Shit is a war, never had no peace/ They pullin’ me over, harrasin’ me/ So, I’d like to see all of them bastards bleed,” he vents over the smooth yet uptempo jazzy instrumental produced by Phoelix and Groove. 

Noname is one of the few artists in music who could be trusted to write a 16 that actually represents the anti-capitalism and pro-Black Marxism that colored Hampton’s politics. A verse from Noname would have elevated this song from a chill Smino-Saba layup to a coveted Ghetto Sage slam dunk. 

The Rakim bonus track, “Black Messiah,” at the end is a biographical song about Hampton’s life. It would have been a nice punctuation on the “inspired album” experience, but the track is only separated from A$AP Rocky balling out in Vegas surrounded by models, by a 60-second instrumental outro. That sequencing really helps hammer home the album’s lack of focus.

Judas and the Black Messiah: The Inspired Album is barely passable as a playlist. And when creating the album “inspired” by a film based on the deception and demise of a young Black revolutionary — during a time in our history when young Black revolutionaries are leading the fight for Black lives —  I don’t think a bit of cohesion with the subject at hand was too much to ask for.

is a staff writer with The TRiiBE. Email him with news tips.