Music, like many other forms of art is universal. Every culture has developed their form of music that is unique to them. Many factors go into determining the quality of music. These factors are what we refer to as elements of music. Some of the elements include the rhythm, tempo, tone, consonance, harmony and many more. Every piece of music carries a theme and message for its target audience. Depending on these factors, the music may appeal or fail to appeal to certain audiences. As for me, my favorite music is This is America by Donald Glover whose music name is Childish Gambino.
The music starts with a slow rhythm that lures the listener into it. There is only one music instrument that accompanies the singing of a choir. At this point the music still carries a happy tone. The voice of choir members is of females. A few seconds later the sounds of the guitar strings interlude with male voices. There is a two second window before the first beats of the song kick in. At this point, the music has picked up some tempo. The women continue singing in the background; that ensures that the song maintains the slow rhythm. The pattern of the rhythm along with the tempo repeat remains the same for some seconds. As the listener gets comfortable with the beat, everything suddenly changes with the sound of a gun;
This is America
Don't catch you slippin' up
Don't catch you slippin' up
Look what I'm whippin' up
This is America (woo) (Glover and Goransson n.p)
The music suddenly takes a different tone, tempo and rhythm. It has transitioned from an African tone to hip hop. The tone shifts from happy to some alarming verses that build anxiety in the listener. The rhythm and tempo have also picked up hence the listeners have to adjust to the new rhythm. Ironically the message in the lyrics coincides with the effect of the music. The earlier tempo of the music allowed the listener to kind of zone out into a limbo. The listener tends to 'slip up'. The sudden gunshot along with the lyrics, "Don't catch you slippin' up" refocuses the attention of the listener back to the music. But the music elements, such as the tone and rhythm are not what makes this music great. The music's main strength comes from the theme and the emotions in the piece. The truth is that the music elements were a distraction from the main message of the music; particularly the music video.
The music comes at a time when America is grappling with the issue of gun violence and black shootings. The chorus, "This is America" shows the music directly addresses America. The gunshot at the beginning of the second part of the music is that of Gambino shooting a guitarist sitting with a bag over his head. It is at that moment that the tone of the music shifts from cheerful to aggressive. Gambino strikes a posture that is similar to that of Jim Crow (Strang n.p). That is a fictional racist character that characterized African Americans as lazy, stupid and somehow lesser beings. The shooter then hands his gun for safe keeping while the black guitarist lies on the floor. The way the other performer receives the gun is a reflection of how guns are treated with care while black people keep dyeing on the streets. The black people don't get the same dignity as the guns that kill them.
From there on things pick up. The background activities increase. All these background activities do not stop Gambino from continuing with his dancing. Some small choir joins him while people continue to riot and kill each other in the background. But then the tone starts to change towards happy and cheerful. Once again he is given an Ak-47 which he uses to kill the singing choir at the pulpit (Glover and Goransson n.p). The tone returns to aggressive and the violence returns. The singing and dancing continue to the end of the video where the rhythm, tones and tempo change once again. In the video Clover is running away from a riot group to signify him trying to run away from being used as a distraction from the violence happening around him. In the background the lyrics sang are," You just a black man in this world, You just a barcode, ayy." That is further evidence that they just wanted to use him.
Martin, David. The Humanities, Through Art. 9th. New York: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015. e-copy.
Strang, Fay. What are Childish Gambino's This Is America lyrics, what is the meaning behind it and what is the Jim Crow pose? 9 May 2018. Internet. 18 October 2018. <https://www.thesun.co.uk/tvandshowbiz/6236011/childish-gambino-this-is-america-lyrics-meaning/>.
This Is America (Official Video). Dirs. Donald Glover and Ludwig Goransson. Perf. Donald Glover. 2018. Youtube.
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