Album Review: Various Artists – Judas And The Black Messiah: The Inspired Album

The earliest soundtrack that comes to mind that’s similar to this is Dr. Dre’s ‘Compton’, a ‘soundtrack’ that felt more like a companion album than a true soundtrack – it’s not like you hear much, or any, of the music actually being diegetic within the film. This continued with films like ‘Black Panther’, which was billed as much as a Kendrick Lamar album as a companion piece, and the soundtrack for ‘Into the Spider-Verse’. The other throughline, of course, is that all four are hip-hop oriented.

You wonder, though, what the point of a soundtrack is if it doesn’t point you to sounds you hear or sonic themes that occur in the film. On its own, this soundtrack is a bit long but it’s eighteen songs that feel like they attack the same point. It’s cohesive. You wonder what the brief each artist was given to create the songs they did, though, and in the case of Nipsey Hussle, what song existed to fit the idea they wanted for it was.

It’s maybe a needlessly conceptual attack on the idea of a soundtrack, but you wonder. It’s described as ‘The Inspired Album’, and the samples of speeches from Chairman Fred that bookend it and the political theme from traditionally political Black artists showcase it’s meant to be more than just an album. It’s also almost a history lesson in rap music from then to now, with artists who are cornerstones of rap as a genre (JAY Z, Black Thought, Nas) to artists like Hit-Boy and A$AP Rocky, to more modern genre-pushers like Lil Durk and Polo G. There’s no real thematic continuance other than deference to Chairman Fred and the occasional throwaway line to the work of the Black Panthers, but the remaining question is still to what it is.

As a standalone album- which is how I’m viewing it, having not seen the film- it’s a good album. Sometimes that’s all you need to know, but you can also see the scaffolding for it to be more than that, and that’s something to look forward to. Having the blanks filled in.

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