The North Star with Shaun King
Word.Life Podcast: Episode 6: "Fight For You” is Award-Winning Revolution

Word.Life Podcast: Episode 6: "Fight For You” is Award-Winning Revolution

This week on the Word.Life podcast, Donney Rose talks about H.E.R.'s Academy Award song "Fight For You" off the Judas and The Black Messiah soundtrack + the legacy of Fred Hampton.

Singer/songwriter H.E.R. is one of the most accomplished artists of her generation. “Fight For You” is a revolutionary masterpiece that added to her growing legacy.

H.E.R. - Fight For You (From the Original Motion Picture "Judas and the  Black Messiah" ... - YouTube

I have this thing about me where I don’t always get into Black musicians that are overhyped by the mainstream media. If I don’t discover their art before white publications or musical outlets shower them with praises, I am often reluctant to give their music a chance as I am generally skeptical about what the mainstream considers high-quality Black music. 

Because of this bias, I occasionally miss out on the work of Black artists that I later come to enjoy. One of the best examples in recent history of that bias working against me was when I found myself sleeping on the talent of H.E.R., the multi-talented singer, songwriter, and musician who is arguably one of the greatest artists of her generation. I had seen white music outlets fawn over the artist-born Gabriella Wilson for quite a while, but it wasn’t until I decided to tune into her 2018 Tiny Desk Concert that I recognized what all the buzz was about. I was especially hooked after seeing her perform the hit song ‘Hard Place’ and developed a deep appreciation for her song ‘Focus on Me’ which I had heard before in passing.

After that Tiny Desk, I officially became a fan. 

I will also admit that in addition to initially ignoring H.E.R.’s work on account of how white media lavished it with praise, I also did not initially pay attention because I was practicing ageism and was not being honest with myself about it. H.E.R. is 17 years younger than me, and at the point I discovered her work, I was kinda of the mindset that there was not much a Gen Z or late millennial artist could offer me, creatively. I found myself lamenting about how some of the best music had already been made, using the same logic as my parents’ generation, and was not as open to giving artists who were born around the same time I was getting out of high school enough of my attention to recognize how dope they might have been.

Thankfully, I wised up when it came to H.E.R. 

And as I dived deeper into her catalog of music, saw her do a number of televised performances, and caught her a couple of times live, it struck me that I was witnessing a once-in-a-generation talent. A young woman, with an old soul, that possessed a great deal of vocal maturity, skillful instrumentation, stellar songwriting, and a mysterious star persona that I had not really seen since the music icons of my childhood. Whether she was doing a tribute for a musical legend or rocking out one of her songs at an award show, I quickly came to the realization that there was nothing that H.E.R. could not do when given a microphone, a guitar, and a piano. The last time I saw her perform live she jumped behind a drum set and blew my mind even further.

The other thing that intrigued me about H.E.R. as a musician and rising icon was her public commitment to social justice and how she was using her extremely large platform to raise awareness about pressing issues of the day including police brutality and racial injustice. H.E.R. was born and raised in Vallejo, California, a modest-sized town in the Bay Area located just over half an hour from Oakland, the birthplace of the Black Panther Party. As a child prodigy and biracial daughter of a Black musician, H.E.R. began her musical ambitions as a 10-year-old singing on the Today Show and would sign her first record deal with MCA Records at the age of 14. 

And after several years, and a slew of industry accolades including multiple Grammys and mounds of critical acclaim, H.E.R. would co-author a song that captured the revolutionary energy of Bay Area blackness, while paying tribute to the life and activism of one of the greatest leaders Black America would ever know.

Released in 2021, the song “Fight for You” was the first single off the soundtrack for the film, Judas and the Black Messiah, a biographical movie based on the life and activism of Chairman Fred Hampton Sr. of the Chicago chapter of the Black Panther Party, and the betrayal he endured by an FBI informant named William O’Neal which led to his assassination. Fred Hampton, a militant-minded organizer and founder of the multicultural Rainbow Coalition, was a fearless and charismatic leader who became one of the most prominent figures in the Black Panther Party. His fiery rhetoric and tactical approach to liberation also made him a prime target of local and federal law enforcement. 

As the 21st-century movement for Black lives grew in momentum, interest in the folklore surrounding the death of Fred Hampton also grew within a new generation of advocates and allies that not only wanted to learn more about his untimely death,  but also about the teachings and organizing and advocacy of a 21-year-old proletariat revolutionary that was so radical that the powers-that-be had to murder him at the dawn of his adulthood. 

Judas and the Black Messiah was the first film to take a deep dive into the circumstances leading to Hampton’s death. The film’s soundtrack enlisted an A-List of musical luminaries to lend their talents, leading off with Fight For You as a 70s-
soul-inspired war cry that found H.E.R. pledging allegiance to the struggle backed by producer D. Mile’s infectious bass lines and triumphant horns.

H.E.R. starts the song by crooning lyrics that could be interpreted as an omen for freedom fighters that regularly battle oppressive systems hell-bent on their destruction. When she sings all the smoke in the air/feel the hate when they stare/all the pain that we bear/oh, you better beware, she is painting a picture of a movement under siege and warning both leaders and followers alike about the importance of keeping their heads on a swivel.

In the pre-chorus, she establishes who she is standing solidarity with and for what reason while crescendoing to the dynamic hook. H.E.R. sings

Freedom for my brothers
Freedom 'cause they judge us
Freedom from the others
Freedom from the leaders, they’re keeping us

and you believe that it is possible that she left the recording booth and headed straight to a Black Panther planning meeting or began working on carving out the path to a new Underground Railroad.

And by the time she gets to the full-on chorus and declares that as long as she’s standing that we can never lose and that she will always fight for you, it is easy to buy into the idea that her sultry alto voice layered over a funky, yet urgent rhythm is the sound of resistance in the face of systemic opposition.

In the second verse of Fight For You, H.E.R. ups the ante when she affirms that the only solution is a new revolution, and asks freedom fighters of today if they will be ready for war when the opposition knocks at their door, an obvious nod to the ambush that claimed Chairman Fred’s life in the wee hours of the morning on December 4, 1969. 

And as she soars into the final pre-chorus, H.E.R. is crying out for freedom from injustice, freedom from corruption and warning those who have been battle-tested that the enemy is aiming for their destruction. Fight For You is as much of a groove as it is an anthem that challenges listeners to be bold in their convictions, and reaffirms that those who fight on the side of righteousness and justice can have faith that a community of advocates, accomplices and witnesses will always be there, standing in the gap to fight alongside them.

As with much of H.E.R.’s previous work, Fight For You has been critically acclaimed, winning an Academy Award and Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song. But the impact of this record that dropped at the top of Black History Month in 2021, on the eve of the release of Judas and the Black Messiah, and as the nation was still wreaked from the embers of the uprisings during the summer of 2020, cannot be merely defined by how many trophies it brought its creators.

Fight For You is a modern-day protest masterpiece, performed by an artist who is creating at a frequency unparallel to the majority of her peers. It is a courageous song. It is a song of witness. A song that the revolution should be proud to have included in its playlist.


Donney Rose is a Writer, Educator, Organizer and Chief Content Editor at The North Star

The North Star with Shaun King
Podcast hosted by The North Star's Chief Content Editor and poet, Donney Rose.