At first, Erin Rae’s new song “He’s Not Free” sounds like a sweetly rendered Southern pastoral, full of “early summer peaches” and “cold water glasses sweating.”
But by the end of the first verse, when Rae rhymes “honeysuckle vines” with “Georgia voters stood in all-day lines” it’s clear that “He’s Not Free” is something else entirely. It’s a sharp-eyed depiction of a South plagued by centuries of racial violence that serves as an understated companion piece to Adia Victoria’s “South Gotta Change.” Both of those songs were released during a year of nationwide reckoning with police violence and broader, systemic racism.
Just as Victoria sings, “You’ve told a lie for so long” in “South Gotta Change,” Rae offers up a similarly sharp condemnation: “If you say the old ways died, you lied, you know?”
“Ahead of this incredibly important run-off election [in Georgia] I wanted to share this song I wrote back in June, after learning about the level of voter suppression that still goes on today and the killing of George Floyd,” Rae says in a statement.
“He’s Not Free” features some powerful internal rhyming by Rae, who in the second verse sings, “On the television/Murder by policemen/Pledges of allegiance come from babies’ mouths.”
“Tell me, he’s not free, is he?'” Rae asks in the chorus. “He’s Not Free” is one of very few originals Rae has released since her breakthrough 2018 album Putting on Airs. Last year, she released the covers EP The Lagniappe Sessions.