By: Laura Nwogu
It was the summer of Donald Glover, also known by his musical alias, Childish Gambino. From movies to “Saturday Night Live” hosting gigs, the multi-talented artist continues to prove his burgeoning status as one of the greatest entertainers of our generation by providing his audience with quality work of great creative expression. This creative expression comes, most notably for the fans who pay more attention to his musical prowess, from the records he puts out and his unique, diverse sound. Glover’s most recent album, “Awaken, My Love!” had critics comparing him to Prince and fans already vying for new music. In early May 2018, the fans got just that and in a more explosive way than they could’ve imagined.
The “This Is America” music video starts off unconcerning with a chorus of “yeah’s” in the background of an upbeat, playground-like melody set against the scene of a warehouse with a lone chair and acoustic guitar. Suddenly a man comes up and sits in the chair, a shirtless Glover appears and starts groovily dancing to the declarations of “We just want to party/Party just for you.” Everyone is having fun in a nondescript location. Until they’re not. Pan out. The man now has a white bag over his head. Is that a gun? Did Glover just shoot him in the head? And suddenly the audience knows this is not just some “Party in the U.S.A.” song. No, this is a song that has you dancing one minute, and pausing to listen to the lyrics another, thinking, “Should we really be dancing to this?”
“This is America” is yet another criticism of the United States and the plethora of racially motivated and violent tendencies it has built itself upon. The music video is a visual overload. Scenes of Glover and a group of talented kids dancing is offset by chaos in the background: individuals being chased, open cars being looted, an African-American choir that is soon shot down by Glover using an automatic rifle. This alludes to the Charleston church shooting in 2015 where nine African-Americans were murdered by Dylann Roof, the gun control debate and the lack of care for black bodies. Chaos ensues: a car is engulfed in flames, bodies drop from railings and more people are chased.
The music video also shows the reality of how people record incidents without stepping in to help in this current era of watch dogs and witnesses. Multiple videos of egregious acts against black individuals by law enforcement and racists have been recorded recently. In the art that is created by Glover, he also alludes to how marijuana is criminalized and viewed as a weapon, especially when it comes to black people. This is statistically proven by the American Civil Liberties Union, reporting that African-Americans are 3.73 times more likely than white people to be arrested for marijuana possession.
“Get yo money, black man,” one of the repeated and closing lines of the song, touches on the concept of compensatory justice, which is the extent to which injured parties are compensated for the damages brought upon them by another party. It could also simply be an encouragement to keep grinding despite any obstacles that may arise. The music video ends in a somber scene of frightened Glover being chased, the lyrics “You’re just a black man…You’re just a barcode…You just a big dog” haunting him and the black audience who are viewed as just objects for purchase and use.
Glover moves from racial justice to environmental justice on his latest song “Feels Like Summer,” which was overshadowed on social media by the assortment of cameos by famous black musicians and entertainers. An animated Glover set in a pink- and orange-toned neighborhood talks of 7 billion souls, humans, who move around the sun, have made machines and don’t slow down. Glover is talking of sustainability and the threat the human race poses as it uses up resources, as its children deplete resources, that the future generation may not get the privilege to use. His meaning becomes more clear as the song moves into the second verse. Glover sings that “Every day gets hotter than the one before/ Running out of water, it’s about to go down… air that kills the bees we depend on.” Global Warming. Fresh water depletion. Air pollution. Environmental threats have been a prominent source of concern, yet Glover notes that the world isn’t changing. The human race isn’t doing enough and lacks the care to protect the Earth. “Oh, I hope we change,” is what he leaves his audience with as he disappears into a home.
Glover adds to the political sound genre, joining recent hits such as “Ye Vs. The People” by Kanye West, “Brackets” by J. Cole, “The Storm” by Eminem and “Americans” by Janelle Monae, and classics such as “Give Peace a Chance” by John Lennon, “Born in the U.S.A.” by Bruce Springsteen and “F— the Police” by N.W.A. Protest songs won’t die and neither will the message behind them with artists like Childish Gambino to push the wave forward.