Songfacts®:

  • This acoustic, reverb-drenched track was the hardest song on Kiwanuka to write lyrics for. Michael Kiwanuka had had the music and melody, written with Danger Mouse and UK producer Inflo, for a couple of years; he just couldn't come up with any words that felt right. Then one day he was flicking through pictures on his phone of civil right activist Fred Hampton. The 21-year-old chairman of the Black Panthers' Illinois chapter was shot and killed in his bed by police in 1969; Kiwanuka started thinking about how young Hampton was when he got killed. This prompted him to reflect on some of the musical icons who had died young too. He told The BBC:

    "And I had the idea of, like, to become a hero, do you need to be a martyr? Do you have so much good to give that it's too much for the world, and you get shot down - whether you're Bob Marley or John Lennon or Fred Hampton, or whoever it is?

    The words came out pretty quick at that point. I finally had something to sing about."
  • The opening lyrics were triggered by Kiwanuka thinking about what it takes to become full-blown musical legend. He asked himself whether he has to create an alter ego or brand like Elton John or David Bowie for people to really sit down and listen to his music.

    Am I a hero?
    Am I a hero now?
    Yeah


    The thought of coming up with an alternative persona does not appeal to Kiwanuka. "I've taken so long just to be really happy with myself - the last thing I want to do is try to make up this new character," he explained to New York Times. "So 'Hero' is kind of posing that question: If I do all of these things, will I become this iconic big singer?"
  • Michael Kiwanuka told Mojo magazine that after Love & Hate's success, filmmakers sought to include its tracks on their soundtracks, which in turn inspired this song.

    "My songs were being 'synced' to things like the James Baldwin documentary I Am Not Your Negro," he said. "I started to learn more about Baldwin's life and artistry, and also really got into the work of Gordon Parks - his movies but also his photography around the Civil Rights Movement, his portraits of poor black families in the south.

    And when I started reading up on Fred Hampton of the Black Panthers, it helped unlock the lyrics to 'Hero,' which I'd be done a year earlier but couldn't get any further than the chorus. But thinking about Fred and the movement, the lyrics just poured out of me."
  • The poignant video, made by the sibling directing team CC Wade, pays homage to leaders and important figures of the Civil Rights movement in America. The directors did the treatment for the clip from Kiwanuka's synopsis of the song's subject matter. The singer explained to Q magazine:

    "'Hero' is inspired by Fred Hampton, part of the Black Panther's in Chicago, a young guy who got murdered when he was 21, but, even in his short life, he was such an enigmatic speaker. The song is about the sadness of people that have so much to give but die young and it's almost like they know because they packed so much into such a short life. Why does it have to be like that? Especially at that time as a young black man, why did it always have to be that they lived so short?

    So 'Hero' is thinking about Fred Hampton, but also what's happening on the news. Even in the last two weeks, It's still happening in America. So when I spoke to CC Wade I said I wanted to do something inspired by Hampton and the Black Panther's but make it really cinematic and they just ran with it. I'm so excited with the result."

Comments: 1

  • Laura from Santa Rosa, CaShould be included in the category "Songs About Racism"
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