Ahead of the soundtrack release for Kathryn Bigelow’s upcoming film Detroit on Friday, the Roots and Bilal have premiered their newest collaboration, “It Ain’t Fair,” a gorgeous song featuring Bilal’s soul-stirring vocals, Black Thought’s hard-hitting raps, and the band’s powerful instrumentals.
The track draws heavily on black soul influences from the ’60s, as well as imagery from the film, which reimagines the Algiers Motel incident, in which three young black men were killed and nine other civilians were beaten by police during the infamous 1967 Detroit rebellion. “Oh brother, it’s still a mystery/ Will you hear my cry, won’t you hear my plea,” Bilal sings, calling to mind Sam Cooke’s 1964 classic “A Change is Gonna Come.” “Cause I’ll never know, how it feels to be free.” Later, he croons: “Wolves disguised as sheep patrol our streets/ And we all know what you sow you should reap,” mirroring the civilian unrest and protests against police brutality that followed the incident.
The lyrics of “It Ain’t Fair” are also enhanced with the meaning it holds for the present-day Black Lives Matter movement and the frequent deaths of black men at the hands of law enforcement, in the same manner as Common and John Legend’s Oscar-winning song for Selma, “Glory.” Said Questlove to Rolling Stone,
This song is the slow burning fire inside all of our souls. Watching the movie [Detroit] clearly shows that life in 1967 isn’t that much different in 2017 or 1897 for that matter. We wanted to hit many a bird with one stone: Humanize the pain, confusion and sadness. But also express the overdue anger. Not only to the powers that be but also to those on the sideline that can afford to turn the other way because it doesn’t effect them at the moment.
In addition to this song, Detroit’s soundtrack also features classic Motown singers Marvin Gaye, Brenda Holloway, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, and Tammi Terrell. The film, which features John Boyega and Straight Outta Compton’s Jason Mitchell in a large ensemble cast, opens in limited release Friday and wide on Aug. 4.