This weekend, some of hip hop’s most prominent icons have come together for the release of the brand new film Judas and the Black Messiah with an accompanying soundtrack. Headlined by names including Jay-Z, Nas, Black Thought, Rakim, A$AP Rocky, and an array of others, this is already one of the most star-studded compilation records ever released. With executive production from the one and only Hit-Boy, can this gathering of rap’s biggest stars turn out to be the greatest movie soundtrack of all time?
Through 22 tracks, there’s an array of unforgettable moments that capture the key elements of what makes hip hop the beautiful medium of expression we know and love. Nearly every artist featured brings their A-game, which opens up the door for stellar moments such as Dom Kennedy’s “Respect My Mind” and Lil Durk’s “On Your Mind”. With the film revolving around African American culture, more specifically the story of Fred Hampton, themes of injustice, racism, betrayal, and pride are emphasized throughout. Whether it’s Nas on “EPMD” or Polo G on “Last Man Standing,” we see names from every era contribute to the overlying theme with their potent food for thought songwriting. Out of these cuts of high impact, Root’s frontman Black Thought’s “Welcome To America” was the surefire standout due to its beautifully depicted tale focusing on the false promises and detrimental costs of achieving the highly sought-after American dream. Along with the standalone tracks from established stars, there’s an array of prominent up-and-comers who shine through as well. White Dave’s “Appraise” and Nardo Wick’s “I Declare War” are both solid entry points to MC’s most are unfamiliar with. Making two guest appearances, G Herbo delivers on two memorable cuts in “All Black” and the Hit-Boy and Bump J collaboration “Revolutionary”. On the note of Hit-Boy, “Broad Day” was a top-tier moment here that displays the 33-year-old producers hardly utilized proficient rapping ability. In all its glory, the best aspect of this LP comes in the form of its collaborations. From JID and Rapsody questioning the meaning of life between a stellar hook from Masego on “Somethin’ Ain’t Right” to the renowned pair of Saba and Smino fighting for their freedom on “Plead The .45th,” each crossover is meaningful in the scheme of both the soundtrack and each artist’s ever-growing catalog. These pairings peek at “What It Feels Like,” which teams up the one and only Jay-Z with the ghost of Crenshaw’s Nipsey Hussle for a surreal anthem that contains two of 2021s best verses so far. On the other side of the spectrum, R&B singers BJ The Chicago Kid, SiR, H.E.R. all deliver soul-shocking melodic anthems of their own (which switches up the pace in a good manor). Through this hour-long experience, the two tracks that held the most importance were A$AP Rocky’s “Rich N*gga Problems” and Rakim’s “Black Messiah”. While some compilations tend to crumble due to the talent pool lacking the ability to mesh together, Judas and the Black Messiah thrives due to its stylistic diversity but well woven together narrative.
Behind the boards, Hit-Boy executive produces a score that perfectly matches the energy each featured artist brings. Being composed of instrumentals from both himself and others, the soundtrack meshes his signature flare with some unfamiliar influences. Complementing the atmosphere of the movie, each song is presented with a raw feel. From the intro, “Cointelpro/Dec 4” to the outro “Black Messiah,” each track is built off the basis of defiance and courage. This allows for everything from the hard-hitting bongos on “Fight For You” to the soul samples in the background of “Letter 2 U” to feel so authentic. Other beats, including the gleaming “Plead The .45th”, triumphant “What It Feels Like”, and tropical “Teach Me,” further display the extensive sonic pallet seen through the album. When it comes to the soundscape, the only real gripe comes in the department of instrumental unoriginality. None of these beats are unlistenable, but a good portion of them feel way too average to truly elevate songs like “Last Man Standing” and “No Profanity” to the next level. As a whole, the production is generally good, and for movie soundtrack standards, Hit-Boy and crew have already far surpassed the current status quo.
Walking away from Judas and the Black Messiah’s soundtrack, I’m honestly in awe by the way this record was able to come together as cohesively as it did. When you have Lil Durk and Rakim featured on the same project, there’s little to no chance of anything sounding intertwined, but with the guidance of Hit-Boy and the care every artist put into connecting their performance with the film’s themes, they were able to do the improbable. When it comes to hip hop movie compilations, the only two better are Death Row Records’ classic Above The Rim score and Kendrick Lamar’s Black Panther Soundtrack.
- Amazing collaborations
- Meshes together so many styles, generations
- Rare appearances from legendary/fallen MC’s
- Some instrumentals are generic
- As a compilation record, the ceiling is only so high as it lacks true meaning or direction in the scheme of traditional hip hop albums
Written by: Marc Dator
Scored and edited by: Marc Dator founder and owner of Fantastic Hip Hop