In his new music video, This is America, Childish Gambino addresses America’s infatuation with pop culture trend, and our resistance to facing real issues.
Gambino’s career has been long and winding, from early mixtapes to full blown mainstream success. His earlier works like Camp and because the internet were solid projects, but were weighed down in cliché. Projects like Camp and BTI struggled to deliver the central theme they were going for, but showed massive potential. On his most recent effort in 2016, Awaken My Love!, Donald Glover finally reached his potential with one of the strongest projects on the year. Gambino strayed away from his usual rap sound and went for a more Funkadelic inspired sound fusing RnB, soul, funk, and rock brilliantly. After this project Glover Announced he would release one more album, leaving fans wondering where he would go next.
This is America is a sign of good things to come. The song begins with captivating wild chanting over acoustic guitar leading into a smooth pre chorus. Glover croons “we just want to party/ party just for you/ we just want the money/ money just for you.”
This serene melody abruptly ends when glover shoots a man playing acoustic guitar, and the beat switches up completely. Glover stares into the camera and raps “This is America/ Don’t catch you slippin up.” Glover continues to deliver cold verses over a bass heavy, almost tribal drum beat. This beat introduces icy synths during the verses, creating an ominous vibe, eliciting the feeling of impending doom.
The verses include Gambino delivering rap cliché after rap cliché about guns, money, clothes, women, and cars. But that is the whole point. Glover delivers these lines with calculating charisma. In the video Glover performs the dances that have been unavoidable on the internet for the past few months including BlocBoy Jb’s Shoot dance. Glover performs these dances accompanied by young school students, but all the while chaos is reigning in the background. Police violence, fighting, and burning cars are just a view of the vivid images seen in the background of Glover and children enjoying their pop culture crazes.
Glover is pointing out how black Americans ignore the harsh reality that they suffer through every day by taking part in these pop culture crazes. Glover is criticizing how popular culture chooses to portray blacks in this ignorant dancing fashion, when in reality there are real issues plaguing their communities. This obvious contrast forces the viewer to face their ignorance to the issues.
Glover also criticizes the artists as well for using these black stereotypes as merely dancers and entertainers for America to gawk at as well. Between verses a choir sings “Black man get your money” pointing out how black entertainers use stereotypes of violence and gang culture as a platform to fame. This is further explored when Glover shoots down the entire choir, illustrating how violence is so connected with blacks in media. Glover wants artists to address the issues, not use them as an avenue towards fame.
Another brilliant subtle touch Gambino adds is the adlibs during the verses. Gambino samples the adlibs of multiple rappers including, 21 savage, Quavo, and Blocboy Jb after he delivers his lines. This specifically points out individual artists who are responsible for glorifying violence and perpetuating stereotypes. This forces the listener to confront the way they consume black culture. But Gambino is not discrediting these artists, he actually has shown respect for them in the past.
The song ends on the choir continuing the “black man get your money chant” as Gambino sings stellar James Brown-esque vocals in the background, but he could not end it on such a happy note.
Young thug begins to croon over a heart pounding 808 beat singing “you just a black man in this world/ you just a bar code ayyy” and compares the African-Americans to kennel dogs. Thugger is pointing out how black entertainers are viewed as profit opportunities in the world, and are not viewed as real people by corporate America. This was an incredible way to sum up the song in a few short lines.
Overall, This is America is one of Gambino’s most captivating songs yet. Gambino’s poignant criticism, haunting visuals, and don’t forget amazing vocals and production are exciting signs of what’s to come on his upcoming project.