Doing the research for this one was a rollercoaster of intrigue that lead to more twists than a typical M. Night Shyamalan movie viewing. The first being that “Chains” performed by Usher, Nas, and Bibi Bourelly is an interactive experience. Not only is there a music video, but there is a website that tracks you via facial recognition. Using your computer’s webcam to directly confront you with the victims of racial profiling and violence, the website shows you the faces of people like Trayvon Martin and Caesar Cruz. If you look away, the music stops playing, being symbolic of how looking away from injustice like this stops progress.
Speaking of the music, this track is beautifully produced. The artists’ voices are haunting and echo across the track like the ghosts of those wronged, and police sirens wail in the background before being interrupted by gunshots and a moment of silence. A beautiful string accompaniment pair well with these elements, the only weak element of the song seeming to be how heavy-handed they can be with their message.
The beginning of the song especially seems to have this problem for me. Having your son say, “Liberty and justice for all… For all?” is the least subtle thing I’ve seen since the music video for “Confessions” Usher. Despite that, the other lyrics are powerful and symbolic, with Nas being the best part with lyrics like “I am no prison commodity/Not just a body to throw in a cell.” and “They want our votes, but refuse the discussion/On how certain cops shoot us for nothing.” (On a semi-related note, Nas is very prolific with a wealth of societally-conscious songs that I like.) The song is very good, and has a great deal of respect and righteous anger for the subject matter at hand. I wish I could say the same about how Tidal handled the matter. Yes, Tidal. Remember that? Jay-Z and friend’s answer to record company’s greed, and an act of solidarity on the part of musicians by…making a corporation that holds exclusive rights to songs and forces people to pay very expensive subscription fees in order to listen…like a record company. As it turns out, “Chains” was a Tidal exclusive song as well because when I think of “breaking the chains of social injustice” (the exact words describing the song when it was promoted) I think of subscribing to a music service that overcharges people so that millionaires can gain even more unfathomable amounts of money. To make matters worse, not only did the song come off as an advertisement for Tidal, but it was featured along other artists in Tidal’s “Tidal X” benefit concern alongside…a dance-off between Beyoncé and Nikki Minaj. Factors like these really diminish the impact that I feel this project could have had, and explain why no one I asked even knew about or remembered it. Despite definitely mismanaging what could have been an amazing and very effective message with the technologically impressive interactive portion, at least Jay-Z and Tidal made an effort. But unfortunately, like the song itself said, “Don’t act like you saving us/It’s still the same.”