Usher’s been becoming more outspoken about social issues over the last year, culminating in his Essence Fest ensemble in which he rocked a Juneteenth t-shirt and a jacket that asked, “Have we truly achieved our independence?”

Between posting quotes from Malcolm X and Nelson Mandela on Instagram, and reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me, Usher’s been sharing a not-so-subtle message of Black empowerment with his millions of fans. Now, he’s putting it all in his music.

In “Don’t Look Away,” Usher challenges listeners to stare directly into the eyes of victims of police violence, while he sings about America’s attempt to keep Black folks in “Chains,” which also happens to be the name of his new song featuring Nas.

The interactive video opens with the statement, “While racial justice keeps killing, society keeps looking away,” and features the pictures and stories of people who have been killed by police.

The video is haunting, provocative, and powerful.

Take a look. 

All proceeds from “Chains” will be donated to Sankofa.org, a social justice organization.

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  • Unlike other celebrities, I actually believe that this is a genuine effort on Usher’s part to not only bring awareness, but to actually “do” something about police brutality. I also like the fact that he (or the actually organization) actually included at least one of the Black Women victims as well. The only thing that I am skeptical about is whether this sentiment is going to be shared by most of his fans — at least the ones that are not Black.

  • We live in a time where there is mass police brutality, racism, and ecological problems. The song is certainly powerful in not only bringing awareness on important issues, but it advocates change. For the proceeds of “Chains” going into Sankofa is really great. We know that respectability politics doesn’t work and we need social justice in the world. It is wrong for crooked cops to kill unarmed Black Brothers and Sisters. Our ancestors have experienced chains via the Maafa (which was an exercise of brutal terrorism and capitalistic exploitation). Today, we are still fighting for liberation. The song’s emphasis on chains carries the message home succinctly. An economic system that is based on the exploitation of the majority of the people for the benefit of a few (where in the USA alone, 90 percent of the wealth is controlled by less than 5 percent of the population) is abhorrent. So, we want revolutionary change. We need to address economic inequality and the structural problems of racism, the prison industrial complex, and misogyny. We want crooked cops to be in prison and we are dedicated to the development of our communities.

    We will never forget the names of Sean Bell, Rekia Boyd, Aiyana Jones, etc. So, we will stand up for our community and we will continue to believe in standing up for our lives as black people. We are all called to make a contribution in the lives of our black people and we will continue to put in the work. Collective power is important too. Selfish individualism never works as proven by the Great Recession (of the 21st century). We want our people collectively to grow. One of the lessons of the elders is about forming networks of helping the poor, embracing solidarity, uniting working class power, and forming other community development programs. Solutions will include many things. We certainly want structures of oppression to end. We want to exist in the world where true justice is a reality.

    • Chazz A

      Good post brother Truth. I listened to the song. It has a certain power within the lyrics. As Tajmarie stated, my concern is with Usher’s fan base.
      He is a cross-over artist and the fans can carry the message a lot farther than the lyrics.
      Back in the 70s, legendary artists such as Gil Scott Heron, Curtis Mayfield and Marvin Gaye wrote songs that spoke to the ills of society, relative to black people, at that time.
      We need that type of message today and Usher may be is on the right track.

    • Certainly, music back then was very rich in not only harmonies, but in content. Marvin Gaye’s “What Going on” was ahead of its time including the songs from Gil Scott Heron. The lyrics of the song by Usher and Nas certainly want people to do something about blatant injustices against innocent people. Usher’s music appeals to a wide spectrum of people and it is fair to ask the question about his fan base. Music readily is a reflection of the times or the social barometer of the conditions of society. We want more musicians to talk about these important subjects. There is nothing wrong with entertaining music at times, but much of the mainstream music today is very imbalanced and many folks showing music aren’t really talented at all. More progressive messages about breaking chains and having liberation are needed in our generation.

    • Chazz A

      Word is bond!

    • Chazz A

      Today’s music has been hijacked and corrupted my racist record company execs. Its a minstrel show, a digital form of slavery, my opinion!

    • Great analogy. Peace Brother.

  • mywordsaremypower

    This made me cry. I read the title and I was like here we go again just trying to make a buck off your own people. I actually think is genuine this time, I’m hoping so. Everyone brings this up for like 2 mins and turns their back and goes back to their cocoon. The lyrics in this song are very powerful and they sat with me. I hope this opens some black eyes.

    • I hope the song wakes up more black people too. We won’t back down either. We will fight for our liberation as black people.