Various artists, "Judas and the Black Messiah: The Inspired Album" (RCA)
A movie's message doesn't have to end with the closing credits. Black filmmakers and musicians have been making the most of "inspired by" albums that are anything but afterthoughts; they boldly extrapolate from the story told on-screen. "Black Panther," "The Lion King" and now "Judas and the Black Messiah" — about the 1969 police killing of Illinois Black Panther Party chairman Fred Hampton — arrived with companion albums that connect fantasy and history to their repercussions in the here and now.
The "Judas" album overflows with music and ideas: 22 tracks, many of them collaborative. The collection gathers past and current hip-hop hitmakers, with Nas, Jay-Z and the Roots' Black Thought alongside Pooh Shiesty, Polo G, Lil Durk and BJ the Chicago Kid.
Although the album is a compilation from dozens of artists, it has a coherent sound: soulful, somber and retro like the film's closing song, H.E.R.'s "Fight for You." Much of the album looks back at 1990s hip-hop: relying on instruments and samples of full bands, laced with melodic hooks and firmly enunciating the lyrics.
Some tracks directly address the film's particulars. Rakim's "Black Messiah" delivers a terse, magisterial biography of Hampton over samples of a 1967 soul single, Them Two's "Am I a Good Man." In "Somethin' Ain't Right," over bluesy guitar chords, Masego sings about corruption.
But the focus inevitably widens to encompass the present. Polo G's "Last Man Standing" bitterly connects thoughts of Hampton and the Black Panthers to deep-seated systemic racism, police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement. Black Thought's "Welcome to America," with gritty vocal choruses from C.S. Armstrong and flashes of a gospel choir, is a vehement reminder of centuries of exploitation, remembering "every lost body crossed, tarred, feathered and tossed" and insisting, "This American cloth has never been soft / While history was running its course."
• Judith Hill, "Baby, I'm Hollywood"
• Kings of Leon, "When You See Yourself"
• Andrew Bird & Jimbo Mathus, "These 13"
• Zara Larsson, "Poster Girl"