By SHAY COLLINS
A modern-day protest anthem and a musical tour-de-force, Usher’s latest release refuses simple description. The track opens with a child’s voice wondering, “Justice for all?” Thereafter, potent, painful lines about police brutality, murders of Black Americans and the prison-industrial complex fill every verse and chorus. “I am no prison commodity, not just a body you throw in a cell,” Nas raps, “Just for your quota, so it’s rest in peace to Sean Bell/Sleep in peace Eric Garner (Sandra).” Earlier, Usher and Bibi Bourelly sing, “Moment of silence/American school and we in church too (Don’t shoot).” It feels vastly uncomfortable and inappropriate to take any line out of context, to listen to “Chains” with a passive ear.
Usher makes active engagement with “Chains” a further necessity with the song’s interactive music video, available on Tidal.com. “While racial injustice keeps killing, society keeps looking away,” the website states. The listener must allow the website to access their webcam, prompting the site to locate their face with recognition software, to watch the video. In that moment, “Chains” evolves from being an eloquent, impassioned commentary to being truly groundbreaking. The “Chains” video displays the faces and stories of Black Americans whose murderers have not been held accountable. If the software detects that the listener is not looking at the screen, the video shuts off until they look back into the subjects’ faces. Usher, Nas, Bibi Bourelly and the video producers have turned the camera on the viewer, held them accountable for what they choose to consume or not. It is impossible to describe the process of watching the “Chains” video; the viewer him or herself must choose to watch, or to look away.