What Childish Gambino and J Cole Are Saying About the World Today.
In mid-April, we were blessed with J Cole’s 5th album KOD. The album was a different sound than we were used to hearing from the 33 year old North Carolina native, containing several mixes with his alter ego kiLL Edward and several topics including infidelity,drug abuse,and rap today. Not a month later, rapper/actor Childish Gambino, dropped a music video that had the world talking. The music video “This Is America” also talked about controversial topics in our society today. The two rappers had a common theme in their respective songs and it seems to have a target audience, the youth.
For the most part both Childish Gambino and J Cole left their projects open for interpretation and fans of the artist did just that. After much analysis, these are some of the similarities I see both guys are trying to portray in their songs.
Distaste in the Rappers Today
The first common theme in both Gambino and Cole’s songs are their distaste in the people we call rappers today. J Cole has shared his displeasure before in his 2016 single “Everybody Dies” where he mocks rappers names and their mumbling and “trapping”, comparing them to someone with learning disabilities by calling them “short bus-rappers”. In KOD, he continues to call out the rappers in his song “1985” Cole addresses the prominent new wave of drug-induced, club rap, which often focuses on secular themes like money, drugs, and sex. He states many are quick to bash and hate on this new generation, but he compares himself to these guys when he was a similar age. Cole then finishes with giving the rappers advice on focusing on other things because all the things they rap about are only temporary and warns them of the dangers of living life on the edge.
Another quick example is in his song “KOD” where he makes a quick sub at today’s “mumble rappers” when he states “ Wow, ni**as been crampin’ my style blowin’ my high, they want a reply The number one question is, “How?”. He talks about his irritation towards these rapper, who only appear to want to flex and don’t pay much attention to the art of rap.
In the music video “ATM” one of the first scenes in the video is J Cole (playing King Overdose) hovering through the sky while some kids on drugs follow him around in his chair,dangling a dollar on a hook . This is his interpretation of the lyrics of a lavish lifestyle and how dangerous they can be. How the rappers make it seem like anyone can live their lifestyle and how fun drugs and money are, they are poisoning the minds of the youth, KOD (Kids On Drugs). As the video continues we see Cole in a strait jacket within a wall made of money, giving the interpretation that money is blocking out the young rappers from the real world and the lack of knowledge can make them go insane (hence the strait jacket).As we move throughout the video, we see J Cole (dressed to almost mock the rappers today) giving a literal arm and a leg to buy a car, signifying that the new age rappers will do anything to continue their lavish lifestyle, no matter how much they would have to give up. As he drives his car, he ignores the empty fuel sign and we see the last of Cole in the video, crashing and dying, leaving a morbid message that chasing the money can kill you, figuratively and literally. The video ends with a simple yet powerful message “Choose Wisely”, calling attention to the new age rappers.
Cole continues to mock the rappers throughout his album, adding some “skrrts” (listen to Kevin’s Heart)and a lot of humble bragging about his ability to drink (Listen to KOD).
Childish Gambino has a similar message in his song “This is America”, although in his song it is more subtle. In fact is it so subtle, the normal viewer might have missed it. For those who haven’t seen the music video, a big chunk of the video has Childish Gambino almost serving as a distraction for the kids around him as the world comes crumbling down around them.
In a specific part in the song he says “hunnid band hunnid bands hunnid bands, contraband, contraband, contraband”, where the beat sounds a lot like Lil Pump’s “Gucci Gang”. For those that don’t know, Lil Pump is among one of the popular new age rappers and a subject to both J Cole and Childish Gambino. In this part of the music video, the kids continue to dance around him like he’s some sort of idol and ignore the real world problems we are dealing with today. The children in the music video instead choose to dance around Gambino and ignore the chaos in the music video.This is another call to the new age rappers who distract the kids and keep them from focusing on gun laws or police brutality but instead worship those with the money and the drugs.
Both J Cole and Childish Gambino see the distraction and are fearful of how our future in both the music industry and in the real world. Although Cole didn’t hit the hard facts like Gambino, he expresses the same distaste for the new agers and warns about the dangers in their lyrics.
Calling Out the Lawmakers
Both rappers also share a frustration with lawmakers and how they shape our society. Lawmakers aren’t very popular subjects among hip hop artist so this similarity was simple to catch. In J Cole’s song “BRACKETS” he expresses his frustration with the government and how much money they take out of someones earnings. he addresses the trap of poverty and poorer communities where houses are worth less,making the people of these communities end up paying less property tax. this means less fortunate communities end up taking much longer to accumulate tax money to renovate their roads and buildings. This infrastructure leaves people without opportunities to become successful.
Like typical J Cole fashion, BRACKETS narrates a story and includes one of his alter egos “Lil Cole” in which he talks to his “Unc” (Uncle Sam). In the narration, Lil Cole is frustrated about having to pay a lot of money from his hard earned check ( portraying the average taxpayer) and he hangs up in anger. But perhaps his most powerful verse in the song is “ If I’m givin’ y’all this hard-earned bread, I wanna know better yet, let me decide, bitch, it’s 2018 let me pick the things I’m funding from an app on my screen better that than letting wack congressman I’ve never seen dictate where my money go, straight into the palms of some Money-hungry company that make guns that circulate the country And then wind up in my hood, making bloody clothes.” Cole, like many taxpayers, is skeptical about where his money goes and wishes he could simply choose where his money can help the community, instead of having someone that for him. He also states that his money could be going to rich industries that make guns or other weapons of destruction. He ends the song in a “what goes around comes around” where the mother of the child that died from the industry that made the gun, remembers she has to pay her taxes.
In a similar way, Childish Gambino calls out the lawmakers in the NRA. Gun violence is a huge issue with the school shootings, tragedies, and police brutality. In the beginning of the music video, a man playing a guitar can be seen, as we move on the same man is now sitting in his chair with a bag over his head, where Gambino is standing behind him with a gun to his head. Gambino then proceeds to pull the trigger and kill the man with a gunshot to the head. Before he walks away, he carefully hands the gun to someone who takes good care of the gun before disappearing off screen. As we move through the music video, we see a choir singing before Gambino once again appears and shoots the choir, maybe portraying the tragedy in 2015. He once again carefully disposes of the gun and leaves the bodies there.
This is a direct call out to lawmakers preventing the gun control talk and just wishing and praying for the victims on Twitter. Both guns he uses in the music video are well taken care of, while the bodies of the victims are left on the ground to be forgotten. Although this is eerie, it is his interpretation of those who continue to fight the gun control restrictions and fail to see the dangers guns make in society.
Both rappers are using their influences to point out issues with the ones who are supposed to keep us safe but in turn hurt us more.
Calling Today’s Youth To Action
It is safe to say a good chunk of today’s hip hop and rap has a younger audience, most being millennial/Generation Z. In KOD and “This Is America”, both artist target this group to stop being distracted and to “Stay Woke” for lack of better terms. Most of J Cole’s album revolve around “Kids On Drugs” calling all the distractions and money craze and sex addiction drugs. Like I mentioned earlier, “ATM” focuses on all the bad influences we have with today’s rappers and how dangerous a lack of knowledge can be.
In J Cole’s song “Photograph” he depicts a character who falls in love through the Instagram explore page. He goes unto “shoot his shot” and fail miserably stating “I shoot my shot and it bricks”. in character, he continues to express his anxiety with how today’s world it is all digital and how “puttin my heart in a click”. We are so distracted by trying to flex on Instagram, sliding into someone’s DM’s, we forget the world around us. in “1985”, he blames the youth for making all of these new age rappers famous, the ones who sing about money or sex for paying money and attention to these guys.
The album art is an eerie picture of kids who are influenced by these drugs, and money. We see how these kids do not look well and they are all pictured with some sort of narcotic that seems to be the subject of most of the new age rapper’s songs. Cole with a crown standing over them could mean his trying to keep these kids on the right path.
Childish Gambino’s music video also target’s today’s youth , more specifically the African-American youth. The first seconds of the music video, Gambino is comically dancing, which some can debate he is doing his impression of “The Jim Crowe Dance”, a dance used to mock black culture in the early 19th century. Almost immediately Gambino is calling the youth’s to action and posing the question, What are you doing to advance politics in the future? Throughout the music video, imitation plays a huge role as well as the tempo of the song. In the song, he goes from “We just wanna party” where the tempo and the song is upbeat and it transcends to “Party just for me”, where the song is just Gambino dancing on top of the car with nobody else. This is an imitation of today’s millennial who look out for others until they make it big and only worry about themselves. This is a poison to society as we seem to fail to practice what we preach.
When the song gets more chaotic, you can hear Gambino repeatedly saying “Dont catch you slippin up”, urging the listener to not be surprised by the cultural climate in today’s world. It seems he is calling out the youth for being caught up on the latest meme or what one celebrity said to another on Twitter or the latest iPhone instead of the pressing issues like gun control or racism.
Perhaps the most powerful message in this entire music video is his interpretation of the black youth in out society. The entire video pretty much revolves around it as we see the kids dancing around him, wearing clothes popular in the 50s, signifying this has been an issue since then. The kids throughout the video are dancing around him and ignoring what’s around them, the violence and the cop cars, to almost worship Gambino, meaning he sees himself as the influencer in this video. Although the world in his video is falling apart, he continues to chant “This Is America” saying that no matter how free and privileged we are, this is still a scary country, dealing with a lot of issues that have not been addressed.
The video ends with Gambino dancing on top of the cars by himself, portraying a wealthy, black man. The final seconds show Gambino running from society, portraying that behind the riches, he is still a black man and he still experiences the setbacks.
Both artist addressed issues that aren’t huge topics of discussion but need to be said. With Childish Gambino combining race, gun control, and the youth, he spoke about issues that he felt our society as a whole needed to see. With KOD J Cole did something similar where he spoke about the drugs, the bad influences, and the youth that follow the bad influences. Both rappers are using their influence for the better and hopefully we can understand and move forward as a society.