When Childish Gambino’s Awaken, My Love dropped in December 2016, it was the ultimate banger album to listen to driving around with your friends. Packed with funk and soul influences, covering dense themes like race, sex, love and fatherhood, this record was a far cry from his previous two rather one-dimensional hip-hop albums, Because the Internet (2013) and CAMP (2011).
Gambino, whose real name is Donald Glover, is an actor, writer and singer perhaps best known for his role on NBC’s “Community.” Glover delivered an eloquent, intelligent follow up single to Awaken, My Love this past weekend titled “This Is America.” There is so much to be said about this track, so much to delve into— just wow. Wow.
According to Pitchfork.com, “This Is America” has amassed views faster than any of his other music videos and is crushing his YouTube records—rightfully so. The video hit the internet immediately following Glover’s glowing performance as the host of “Saturday Night Live,” during which he performed the song along with another new song, “Saturday.”
Safe to say, everyone was delightfully shocked by Gambino’s triumphant return to the music scene, especially since Glover is also busy with his TV series “Atlanta,” which he writes, directs and stars in. If you haven’t, go watch “Atlanta”— it’s mind blowing, smart and funny. Glover glows.
“This Is America” is an ode to blackness in the United States. It is a track marked with urgency and concern for the future that also recognizes the pains of the past. The song and accompanying video are, in every sense, works of art. They brim with energy, love and anger, radiating struggle, success, and the pain and beauty of blackness. The video, directed by frequent Gambino collaborator Hiro Murai (also a director of “Atlanta”) and choreographed by Sherrie Silver, is a quick four minute watch, that is packed with action.
There’s so much to unpack in the video— so much, in fact, that Oracle copy editor and mental giant Julia Thornton is writing a paper about it. The video, filmed in an empty warehouse, opens on an old black man crossing to a guitar, sitting and strumming the song’s opening while a choir sings from far in the distance. The camera pans to a shirtless Gambino in the background, who slowly begins to dance. He slowly dances towards the older man, quickly pulls out a gun and shoots him in the head.
This video is an elegant attack on gun violence and police brutality, and the ways in which race intensifies these issues. Countless metaphors and allusions are spotted throughout the video; for example, the cars featured in the second half of the video (some of them on fire) are all from the 90s, a nod to the 1992 race riots that took place in Los Angeles due to the attack of Rodney King.
The song features numerous black artists, many of whom have also released protest songs addressing the contemporary issues facing black people in the U.S. These artists include Quavo, Slimm Jxmmi, Blocboi JB, 21 Savage and Young Thug. The four charasmatically ad-lib over the vocals of Gambino, embellished by a jubilant chorus that contrasts beautifully with the song’s raging rhythm.
Young Thug wraps the track with a mellow outtro, quietly singing in almost a hum-
“You just a Black man in this world
You just a barcode, ayy
You just a Black man in this world
Drivin’ expensive foreigns, ayy
You just a big dawg, yeah
I kenneled him in the backyard
No probably ain’t life to a dog
For a big dog.”
Thug’s verse recognizes the dehumanization that black men deal with on the daily: the pain of needing to prove and perform masculinity while also being told that this masculinity is scary and threatening. It’s a powerful statement, from a figure one wouldn’t normally expect. Thug is a delight; I’m not usually a fan of outtros or mumble rap, but here both work beautifully to tie the track together.
Perhaps the most important aspect of this music video is the choreography. Gambino’s nonstop motion distracts the viewer, taking their eyes away from the violence of the background—except for the numerous instances in which he performs this violence himself. This is, without a doubt, a reference to the American inability to properly address or focus upon violence against black people.
The muted colors of the video keep the viewer focused on the action, and the music, which is unrelenting. It is, most certainly, a packed four minutes, yet it feels effortless.
The viewer of the music video is also teased with a cameo by SZA, possibly alluding to future collaborations between her and Gambino (at least, that’s what I hope).
“This Is America” is, at once, an attack and an anthem. It is music syncopated by murder, literally and figuratively. Each time I listen to this track, a new piece of it stands out to me; each aspect of the music seems carefully considered and laid out, the video ceaselessly detailed and thoughtful. There is nothing negative to be said for any of it. “This Is America” is sheer genius, belonging nowhere else but the top of the charts.
The music video has amassed over 53 million views on YouTube as of today, May 9th. (When I began writing this article, it had 49 million).
With “This Is America,” the Gambino and Glover personas have melded together into one beautiful, unified voice. This voice expands the current conversation surrounding the role of pop culture in addressing social conflicts, and does so with a song that absolutely slaps. The genius of Glover is not to be refuted; I’m on the edge of my seat waiting for his next release.