When director Shaka King was looking for an artist to deliver the end credit song for “Judas and the Black Messiah,” he went to Grammy winner H.E.R.
Of the qualities that made her the perfect artist to complete the task, he says, “versatility in musicianship, soul, artistic and personal integrity. She’s a throwback.”
King’s approach was to give the Oscar-nominated singer-songwriter notes about what he didn’t want. He says, “I really wanted to give her as much space creatively as possible – while expressing a desire to hear something contemporary with echoes of 1968. When I heard the Curtis Mayfield inspiration, I was like, ‘Yes!’”
The end result was “Fight for You,” which she wrote with D’Mile and Tiara Thomas. The song has flavors of Marvin Gaye, Nina Simone and Sly and the Family Stone, and is reminiscent of the revolutionary sounds of the 1960s.
The film tells the story of Black Panther Party leader Chairman Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya) and centers on his betrayal by colleague (and FBI informant) William O’Neal (LaKeith Stanfield) and subsequent muder. The song lyrics are very much relevant in the fight for social and racial justice. H.E.R says, “There’s not much that separates that time and that story from what’s going on right now with the Black Lives Matter movement in the Black community.”
When King first heard “Fight for You,” he thought it was perfect. “The nod to Curtis was just genius,” he says.
His favorite lyrics were the chorus: “Freedom for my brothers / Freedom ’cause they judge us / Freedom from the others / Freedom from the leaders, they’re keeping us / Freedom gon’ keep us strong / Freedom if you just hold on / Freedom ain’t free at all, no.”
King says the chorus was fitting. “A title of the movie I flirted with was ‘The Price of Freedom’ or ‘The Cost of Freedom.’ Her lyrics hit upon a theme in the film in that it’s a movie about two men who want freedom but have very different definitions of what that means and how to go about attaining it. The price of freedom for O’Neal is his soul. The price for Chairman Fred is his life.”
As she was writing the lyrics, she honed in on the idea that everybody was always fighting for something, whether it was freedom or personal gain. She says, “I wanted to create a universal message that represented what is still happening today and how that connects two generations. We’re passing the torch and continuing on Hampton’s work.”