I'd never listened to Childish Gambino before, and I'm definitely not up to date with the rap/hip-hop scene of this decade (my HipHop/Rap playlist on Spotify pretty much has stuff exclusively from the early 90s to about 2007). But a friend of mine suggested this video to me and since then I've seen many articles pop up about it, so I thought I'd go through some of these and throw in my two cents.
This Is America has sparked online discussion and even the BBC are reporting on its message. Music Journalist Natty Kasambala describes the contrasting tones of the song as being similar to scrolling through a twitter feed; you'll see violence and then something funny, and your emotions can flick through from laughing to sadness in a second. This is something I wholeheartedly believe was the idea behind the video - in America you have strong black communities celebrating their heritage (shown with the traditional African singing used in the song) and that is interrupted by the violence and gun crime. She also mentions that watching more black deaths in the video "isn't going to have any more of a revolutionary impact" which I agree with, but don't believe the video was created with that intention - I think the intention was more artistic and metaphorical in the way that he chose to arrange the music and pair the video with the song... Natty's final comment was that she was "a little shocked and a little overwhelmed with the way he chose to say [something so important]".
Who Is Childish Gambino?
Donald Glover is an American comedian, actor, writer, director, producer, DJ and songwriter/rapper, under which he uses the stage name Childish Gambino. He's currently signed to Glassnote Records (Chvrches, Daughter, Two Door Cinema Club) and his latest release 'Awaken, My Love!' achieved vast critical acclaim, particularly for the song Redbone. I've not yet seen a negative thing about him, in fact quite the opposite. The image below is a comment under the BBC News article about This Is America.
Picking Apart The Video...
The first scene in the music video shows Glover with apparently 'exaggerated' dance moves and facial expressions, and many (The Guardian, AJ+) have likened this to a gross characterisation of African-Americans and their culture by Thomas D. Rice from around the 19th Century known as Jim Crow.
The strongest piece of imagery for me was the contrast and confliction in the video, first of all from the dancing to the shooting and second of all between the foreground and the background. In the scene with an all-black gospel choir, Gambino comes in dancing and smiling then all of a sudden his body and facial expression just drops and at that point the gun is thrown into his arms and he shoots the choir. This to me is what the video is all about; black identity being interrupted by the reality of racism and the gun crime in America. "We Just Wanna Party" are the first words sung, and potentially the most underrated as I haven't seen this picked apart in any of the articles I've read. This hugely contrasts with "Guns in my area / I gotta carry 'em".
The conflicting imagery between Gambino in the front and the chaos ensuing in the back of most of the video is widely accepted as a commentary on the media being a distraction to what is actually going on in the world, however I also took it potentially as showing black communities trying to push on with lives despite what is going on around them.
According to Time magazine, Gambino has said his next album will be his last... Every one of his albums so far have been vastly different to one another and each one has achieved greater praise than the one before; can we expect it to be a political mic drop as a poignant end to his Childish Gambino Persona?
If you would like to check out the articles and sources discussed and drawn on for this blog, here are the links below: