Like many people, I was quickly enamored with the enigma that is Childish Gambino’s newest single, “This Is America,” though I was not quite sure why. Even as a Childish Gambino fan since 2011 when Donald Glover (a.k.a. Childish Gambino) released his debut album “Camp.”
“Camp,” was an energetic Rap record full of cheeky one-liners and not-so-subtle social commentary; not exactly political, though aware of the Pop Culture climate, Glover mixed humor with critique in a sugary, palpable fashion. Fast-forward to “Because the Internet” two years later and Glover chose a more pensive, self-introspective route for this release. Smart and clean, “Because the Internet” was a bold leap from “Camp” that, despite the negativity toward it from some critiques, still managed to receive a Grammy nomination for Best Rap Album. Just like the shift we saw from “Camp” to “Because the Internet,” 2016 brought forth “Awaken, My Love!” an even stauncher shift than we had previously seen. No longer a Hip-Hop/Rap artist, Childish Gambino embraced his roots and went for a Neo-Soul/R&B album that garnered as much praise as it did hate. Personally, I could not get the record. I tried and tried, yet nothing stuck. There were clever moves, striking instrumentations and enticingly ambiguous lyrics, but it just did not work for me. This new era (and possibly the last) of Childish Gambino is what paved the way for Glover to give birth to “This Is America.” So, what is trying to tell us?
Frankly, I have no idea.
There has been a lot of back and forth about what Glover was commenting on with this art-piece, though Glover has refrained from commenting and his inactivity I find to be rather genius on his part. Why? Simply put, there is so much material to interpret from that all of the various theories people have come up with are more interesting than whatever the “real” motivation or message would be. I think a lot of people are on the right track when they argue that some part of “This Is America” is critical of the idleness of American culture.
In the music video there is violence on top of violence, yet as depicted around the 2:30 mark, everyone witness to the mayhem is either filming it or just playing on their phones. This phenomenon needs no explaining. I am sure the argument could be made that some situations are too dire to warrant third-party intervention, yet there are also cases in which some attempt could be made—such as one from Florida in which two teenagers filmed a man drowning, audibly laughing during the filming yet making no attempt to help the man who would ultimately die in the water. Regardless of what one thinks of that specific situation, it would seem that Glover is aware of this phone-centric culture and is actively commenting on it.
In a similar fashion, I think Glover’s addressing of the gun violence within “This Is America” is both a spotlight and a commentary. Glover is able to kill with relative ease with seemingly zero repercussions. As soon as someone is killed, the body or bodies are left and Glover carries on, often dancing away. For me, what caught my attention the most is how Glover seems to drift from one scene to the next without a care in the world, leaving death and mayhem in his wake, yet it is only when he lights up what appears to be a joint does anything ostensibly bad happen. Glover is running, running from a mob of people with a look of sheer terror on his face. Why? Is Glover commenting on the culture surrounding drug use? Is he saying something about the paranoia that some users experience after partaking? Could it be both?
As I said before, I do not have the foggiest clue as to what Glover was intending for this release, though I have to say I am quite thankful that he released it. “This Is America” is a confrontational piece that has gotten the nation talking about quite a lot of systemic issues, and that is a wonderful thing if you ask me. Hopefully we are given more answers as Glover releases more and more tracks as 2018 progresses.