I’m probably plenty late to the party, but the party isn’t over yet. Thank God, because Childish Gambino’s “This Is America” is beautiful.
This Is America” takes the “modern day minstrel show” concept we see discussed in so much “real music” several steps further with its accompanying video. It takes Lauryn Hill’s “I add a motherf*cker so you ignant n*ggas hear me” philosophy (and one of my favorite hip-hop lines of all-time) and visualizes it, showing Gambino rocking out to the latest dance trends with kids while a small-scale apocalypse and war on Black people unfurls behind him. You can say they’re either willfully ignoring the chaos or accepting of it and trying to, as Rod Lee would suggest, dance the pain away. Gambino also chastises “mumble rap,” while also embracing it as a necessary “evil” in music.
Pretty much, the track does what J. Cole’s last few records tried to do in a few minutes. That’s no hate on Cole, mind you; I’m one of those folks who’s said people shouldn’t blindly hate Cole. It’s just a hard opinion that has some truth behind it. He condensed down the message to a few minutes and it works well.
The track itself feels pretty Prince and Parliament-esque in its utilization of various genres to tell a story. We see mumble rap, gospel, call-and-response music, “traditional” hip-hop and other genres all blend together. Their end goal? To me, it’s something along the lines of showing show us that we’re screwed if we keep following trends and treating gun violence and racism as things that are just “supposed to happen” because of the powers that be. I mean, the brother referenced the Dylann Roof murders, terrorism abroad and at home, had a guy (Calvin the Second) who resembles Trayvon Martin’s dad in the video, and still had time to let Young Thug talk about commercialism and the Black man’s worth in the eyes of many record executives, some White consumers, and some people in general all while discussing the dangers/allure of securing the bag in the face of a crumbling racial and economic infrastructure.
Childish Gambino had time, he had audacity, and he had the chutzpah to drop this. And it works masterfully. Check it out above, secure some tickets to his upcoming shows if you’re rocking with it, and remember to support dope music in all its forms.
(GIF via GIPHY)