– Mocha Carter, Contributor
While the masses pontificate on if Kanye West is having a mental health crisis or if he’s simply a narcissist, Childish Gambino is giving us exactly what we expected from West and sparking a much-needed conversation through visuals. Many people believe that the two are on the same wavelength; however, because of his meekness and likeability, Gambino’s method, although possessing a great deal of shock value, is more accepted and consequently may prove to be more effective to the culture.
Most hip-hop fans remember cracking open their copy of “The College Dropout” in 2004 and listening to the tracks thinking, “Wow!” Perhaps it was the jazz-infused tracks mixed with the vulnerability and introspection of his lyrics, which were particularly different from everyone else in hip-hop at the time, which drew us in and made us love him. His place in our hearts was solidified when he dropped “Late Registration,” his sophomore album revealing a certain level of consciousness that the industry was lacking. He was exactly what the son of a Black Panther and a college professor should be. Controversial. Outspoken. The voice of a generation. When West made the comments about, then president, George Bush not caring about black people, at the Katrina benefit concert and when he snatched the mic from Taylor Swift using the infamous, “I’mma let you finish” line, we cheered because it felt as if he was speaking for the people. He was speaking for us. But somewhere along the line things changed. He changed or perhaps he didn’t change but his message did. He stopped speaking for black America and began speaking for himself; pandering to white America, where he wants so much to be accepted and it feels like a betrayal to those who have supported and defended him over the years.
Many say that after the death of his mother West began to spiral out of control and evolved into this narcissist we see today. Whether that’s true or not, one thing is for certain, his antics have unfortunately become more of the focus than his art and Childish Gambino seems to be filling the void that Kanye has left. Donald Glover who goes by the rap name “Childish Gambino” has delivered a solid piece of work with “This is America” that has sparked much-needed dialogue about what’s happening today in America while West is trolling us with “Poopity Scoop.”
Don’t misunderstand me. Gambino is not without flaw; nevertheless what he has done with his latest single is what we thought West would. The video for “This is America” is a brilliantly constructed piece of art comprised of both subtle and in-your-face symbolism with multiple layers to analyze and unpack. It’s violent, fascinating, thought-provoking, and necessary. From the polygonal track which is comprised of afrobeats, gospel, and trap, to the man who resembles Tracy Martin, the father of murdered teen Trayvon Martin, “This is America” is a series of deliberate messages that can be interpreted in multiple different ways depending on the viewer. Some of the figurative and literal imagery and the messages behind them include death riding on a pale horse followed by hell; hell being the cop car, children replicating his every move oblivious to the chaos around them, escapism via entertainment, materialism, self-medicating, Jim Crow, gun violence and so much more. You literally have to watch the video multiple times to catch all of the references and pervasive imagery. At least once watch the video and completely ignore Gambino. Did you notice the man jumping to his death? Another concealed message pointing to how unaware we are or how we ignore mental health in our community.
Whether you think Childish Gambino is channeling Richard Pryor, Bill Cosby, or Fela Kuti, in his bare-chested, high waisted ensemble, no matter if you think the ending scene is symbolic of a runaway slave being chased or a man trying to escape darkness or the sunken place, the goal has been accomplished. Everyone is thinking and processing and developing independent ideas about what it means to live in Trump’s America. This brilliantly crafted, although violent depiction of the realities in America has ignited multiple conversations across the globe.
While the world was focused on Kanye West, waiting for him to get back to the genius he claimed to be, Childish Gambino was giving the people what they needed and in the process reminding us why we love art as told through rap music; the imagery, the layers, the creativity, the genius without having to say so.