The movie Judas and the Black Messiah will soon be in cinemas in Australia, but the soundtrack is already here. Muck like The Lion King by Beyoncé or Black Panther by Kendrick Lamar, this soundtrack is inspired by the movie and features some of the best Black artists in the music industry. The movie itself is about the Black Panthers and the ultimate betrayal of Fred Hampton. Therefore, the soundtrack focuses on the American Dream, race, oppression, the lasting wounds of slavery, white supremacy and the Black Panthers. Black Thought’s Welcome to America takes these themes on with blazing intensity.
You can write an entire Masters paper on this track, so anything I write about this track will not do it justice. Moreover, I’m white, so I will never be able to fully grasp how issues Black Thought highlights still resonate for millions of Black people today. Therefore, I will do my best to communicate why this track is so powerful and a must listen.
At the heart of this track is privilege and who is the “American Dream” for? As a white man listening to this track, my privilege allows me to engage in this track on a theoretical / music review level, while for Black Thought and other Black people this track is reality. Due to the colour of my skin, I can step out of the movement whenever I want and go on with my life, while for others the movement is survival. Black Thought uses notions of privilege to subvert the “American Dream” and expose it for the lie that it is.
Black Thought explores how history is never the past for Black people and intergenerational trauma stemming from slavery continues to impact people and continues to live in American symbols. He starts the track with: “My grandmother sutured a flag from bloody cotton / The fruits of her labor alas already rotten / My man said, “Yo, it’s crazy how fast that we’ve forgotten / That we used to pull boxes and plows like we were oxen.” Slavery and oppression are sewn into the flag itself, which gives the title Welcome to America a horrific spin. For white people with privilege, being welcomed to America is the promise of opportunity, while for Black people coming to America meant slavery, oppression, trauma and suffering. They were not welcomed, but forced.
Moreover, within this suffering there is no justice. For every lost body, crossed, tarred, feathered, and tossed … But whether it’s yours or mine, this American cloth / Has never been soft, while history was running its course / I ran hard from Jamestown with slaves, found Jesus / And foul demons that never be charged with malfeasance.” Even though he and others continue to suffer the consequences for slavery, the white people who inflicted violence have never been held accountable. It’s the lack of accountability from slavery, and still now, that keeps this violent / oppressive history ever present.
Black Thought’s powerful lyrics are underlined by a driving percussive beat flanked by blaring brass horns. Moreover, the mix includes gospel choir vocals and screams of anger and cries for justice. This arrangement gives the track an urgency and strength that befits a Black Panther rally. Black Thought’s vocal delivery is raw and powerful on its own, but the combination of his verses with these beats sets the track on fire.
Even though this track is inspired by the Black Panther movement, and Fred Hampton, from the mid to late 1960s, it remains prescient. We need to address how America was built on oppression and how that continues to impact people to this day. This is a powerful track that is a must listen for everyone.
Listen to Welcome to America