BEST NEW MUSIC: CHILDISH GAMBINO - THIS IS AMERICA
Donald Glover, aka Childish Gambino, rips the U.S. a new one in "This Is America!"
There is nothing more American than baseball, apple pie, the 4th of July, race riots, torture, or political assassination.
Wait a minute … This is certainly a far cry from the honey-sweet Americana we're spoon-fed in Elementary School, raised up on the heady myths of the Mayflower, American exceptionalism, Manifest Destiny and the wholesale slaughter that would come in its wake.
That's the thing with the American Dream. It's never been for everybody, and it's largely built on exploiting the marginalized and powerless. The United States Of America was partially able to rise to greatness due to slavery and exploitation of the poor. It stands to reason that these sins would return to the sunlight, like some maniacal, homicidal specters from the Overlook Hotel, just looking for some physical vessels to play out these same old atrocities, again and again.
It also stands to reason that this resurrection would be greatly accelerated with the onrush of Information Technology, which has greatly sped up the righting of wrongs and uncovering of past misdeeds with the access to information and the ability to come together, connect, air our grievances, and compare notes.
Things get really weird when you realize these same technologies are also used to confuse, divide, conquer, and distract. Our greatest emancipator is also our most powerful prison. It's difficult to navigate or know how to feel, let alone discuss these nuanced manners.
Amazingly, Donald Glover, as his Childish Gambino persona, manages to do just that in less than 5 minutes with his surprise single "This Is America," which was debuted on last week's Saturday Night Live, which Glover was also hosting.
CHILDISH GAMBINO - THIS IS AMERICA
"This Is America" comes complete with a lavish music video, and it's difficult to separate the tune from the visuals, especially when first coming to grips with the first Childish Gambino music in two years. "This Is America" comes on with Donald Glover with a Cheshire Cat grin and some slinky Drake dance moves. He's spitting and grinning over some Grade A teflon militant Trap beats and future bass. Suddenly, he pauses to shoot a prisoner tied to a chair with a bag over their head, then returns to his party raps without missing a beat. It's completely hilarious, and also chilling and deeply disturbing. Which is probably the best one-line description of "This Is America," but add "with a sick beat."
Childish Gambino, along with compadres Young Thug, Slim Jxmmi, BlocBoy JB, 21 Savage, and Quavo, run riot in an underground parking garage full of burning cars and riot police, culminating in the massacre of an entire gospel choir with an assault rifle, truly going out with a bang. While extreme violence and social commentary is nothing new in hip-hop (that's part of why we love it, or why it's necessary as an artform, at the very least) what separates Childish Gambino from the other rappers is his willingness to call himself out, to acknowledge the part that he plays in the madness,
As noted in an actually thoughtful thinkpiece from Vanity Fair, Childish Gambino owns up to the fact that he and his celeb friends are getting fabulously wealthy, distracting the public from the very real problems that are threatening to strip away what little future security we might have left. As Vanity Fair also notes, it's not a new conceit in Pop Music, as Katy Perry explored a similar dichotomy in last year's "Chained To The Rhythm," which features Perry in all of her pastel glory skipping through a pseudo-Disneyland. Katy Perry may sound like she's criticizing our "life in the bubble," but one can't help but get the feeling that she's all too happy to live there. Gambino, on the other hand, pulls the roof down, burying absolutely everybody in the cave-in, mostly and especially himself. His bright white smile might be the last thing we see, as the last light fades.
"This Is America" and its accompanying video is like Jordan Peele's Get Out with a digital dancehall beat. It's the sound of making s'mores as Babylon burns, or catching a wicked suntan in the post-nuclear summer.
Needless to say, absolute top-shelf stuff! Comedy and Tragedy have never been closer cousins. We Are: The Guard highly approve from our fallout bunker.
J. Simpson occupies the intersection between criticism, creativity, and academia. Based out of Portland, Or., he is the author of Forestpunk, an online journal/brand studying the traces of horror, supernatural, and the occult through music, fashion and culture. He plays in the dreamfolk band Meta-Pinnacle with his partner Lily H. Valentine, with whom he also co-founded Bitstar Productions, a visual arts collective focused on elevating Pop Culture to High Art.