Childish Gambino’s shift in sound on his 2016 Awaken, My Love! album left many wondering what would follow. As Atlanta’s “Robbin Season” winds down and Star Wars SZN heats up, the artist has marked his final trek as his musical moniker with a gripping visual for “This Is America,” an ode to today’s ways of the world throughout music’s colorlines.
Directed by longtime collaborator Hiro Murai, the video provides deep reflection into America’s polarizing narratives of racial conflict, police brutality, and how we as people of color deal with it all. Gambino and producer Ludwig Göransson toy with a playful intro before getting into the skeleton of the track. With strategic assistance from 21 Savage, Young Thug, BlocBoy JB and Slim Jxmmi, Gambino points out the normality of the culture’s biggest problems. It doesn’t hurt that it carries a primal bop.
As the video carried conversations Sunday (May 6), it was quickly swallowed by fans, critics and those curious about Gambino’s current mission. Murai and Gambino’s visual take on “This Is America” is a journey between living a self-reliant life while carrying the burden social misconstructs on our shoulders.
With so much to unpack in four minutes, here are some revelations:
One of the first images that sticks out is Gambino’s uncanny silhouette to the Jim Crow. Penned in 1828 by white minstrel performer Thomas Dartmouth (T.D.) “Daddy” Rice, the recording “Jump, Jim Crow” marks the journey of yakubians mocking African-Americans in popular music. ‘Bino pulling the trigger on the blinded also highlights how we’ve adapted the mockery in our everyday doings. While busting out a few body rolls, the artist mocks The Boondocks infamous character Uncle Ruckus.
There’s something to be said about the creativity that goes into flipping black pain into art. ‘Bino has plenty of icons to channel this energy like the late Richard Pryor. His quick homage mirrors Pryor’s The Anthology 1968-1992 comedy album. Throughout the album, Pryor makes eerie jokes about police brutality and racial unrest that still happens today.
The photos from the album cover featured Pryor with a gun and an American flag as the backdrop. It was special theme highlighted in iconic photographer Henry Diltz’s photos. He did a similar photoshoot with fellow icon David Crosby.
Instead of pulling a Thanos on the mumble-trap world, Gambino brings together the artists who are leading it. While many things have been said about sub-genre, their ad-libs permeating though “This Is America” keep your head bobbing. While artists like Kendrick Lamar and J.Cole have been more vocal in social issues, 21 Savage, Young Thug, BlocBoy JB and Slim Jxmmi have done so in other ways. Whether it’s providing school supplies to children or playing caretaker to family members, the music they’re shunned for making has helped changed their lives for the better.
They say listen to the kids, but most of the time, they’re listening to us. From the start of “This Is America,” children rocking uniforms are following Gambino’s dance moves (by choreographer Sherrie Silver) as police clash with protesters. One kid is also seen with a Cash Cannon on the roof of a car while others are recording the many juxtapositions on their phones. As the scenes get shorter, the underlying messages get more poignant, showing just how troublesome our attention spans are getting. It also brings about the connection of African and black dance moves like Blockboy’s shoot dance to the South African Gwara Gwara.
Trends come and go, but some memories rest peacefully in nostalgic culture. A number of Toyotas are seen in one of the closing scenes like the Toyota Tercel 4wd Wagon, the Toyota Corolla AE90 Sedan and the Toyota Corolla KE70 Wagon. With all vehicles dating to the late 70s-80s, it hold’s true to Murai’s vision of America adapting foreign (in this case Japanese) ideas as our own without merit. We’re also blinded by the message with a SZA cameo and Calvin The Second, not Trayvon Martin’s father.
America’s obsession with guns is a stronger duo than peanut butter and jelly. This is showcased multiple times in “TIA,” from the reference to the Charleston Nine, to the dragging of bodies. The careful handling of guns by the adult (Gambino) and the children also distracts us from the mental anguish we suffer throughout these times. With May being Mental Health Awareness month, ‘Bino points to this with a man falling to his death as the dance party continues.
It’s unknown how long Gambino took to create his new tunes, but elements from recent police shootings are strongly referenced. The lyric, “This a celly (ha), That’s a tool (yeah),” is an ode to Stephon Clark, who died at the hands of police in March when officers used deadly force after mistaking a cell phone for a weapon. Cops and protesters are chasing each other to push their messages as the body count continues.
One of the most chilling references is the most subtle. As unrest continues, a reference to one of The Four Horsemen of the apocalypse comes to a clear view. Highlighted in the Book of Revelation via the Bible, they differentiate in meaning. The white horse holds elements related to death, conquest or at times, the Antichrist.
‘Bino does a fine job of placing all of the above elements together as the end shows his spirit catching up to the harrowing reality that is America. Inalienable truths will always be on the horizon. Pieces of Young Thug’s final words on the track sum it up perfectly, “You just a Black man in this world, You just a barcode.” As Gambino runs from the sunken place (hint: Get Out star Daniel Kaluuya introduced Glover’s performance of “This Is America” on SNL) he’s telling us all to do the same.
Rewatch the video for the fifty-eleventh time above.