The Roots and Bilal Shout for Justice on Explosive ‘Detroit’ Soundtrack Cut, ‘It Ain’t Fair’

By Sameer Rao Aug 08, 2017

Most of The Roots‘ job as the house band for "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon" involves scoring its recurring segmentsbacking celebrity guests and composing short songs on the spot. The group took a break from that levity to close out last night’s (August 7) episode with an impassioned performance of "It Ain’t Fair," its song from the "Detroit" movie soundtrack.

The Roots’ fellow Philadelphia native and recurring collaborator Bilal joined the band on stage, standing behind an orchestra and belting out the song’s pained chorus (lyrics sourced via  

It ain’t fair
It’s hard when you’re looking for love
And it ain’t there
Or try to read what tomorrow holds
When it ain’t clear
Because the well is running dry
Race tension is running high
Under 21 is far too young to die
My salvation’s under fire
Rising and rising, oh!

Bilal’s lyrics compliment head MC Black Thought’s meditations on American racism, which adeptly weave through the song’s multiple movements and tempo changes:

To my, Afro, Israelis, Native American, Mexicans
Invested in wrestling with Willie Lynch’s next to kin
The rising of the tide, noose surrounding necks again
Look at how they try to hide proof of all the inexcellence

The song’s lyrics plays off "Detroit’s" theme of racist police violence during the city’s 1967 unrest, which the Detroit Police Department, Michigan State Police and Michigan Army National Guard violently suppressed with military arms and tactics. The movie currently has an 86 percent "fresh" score on critical aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. The film and its White director Kathryn Bigelow also faced criticism for omitting Black women from the leading cast and trailer.

The "Detroit" soundtrack also points towards the city’s mid-to-late-1960s culture with songs from Motown artists like Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell. "It Ain’t Fair" uses string and horn arrangements similar to Motown hits.

Watch the performance above.