Music News & Reviews

How Childish Gambino's viral 'This Is America' music video references Stephon Clark

Rapper Childish Gambino's debut performance of "This is America" brought a snippet of Sacramento drama to "Saturday Night Live" this past weekend before the song's provocative music video electrified the internet.

The video for "This Is America," which was posted late Saturday night and had almost 20 million views as of 11 a.m. Monday, features Gambino and a crew of backup dancers hitting the new moves with cartoonish smiles while scenes of organized chaos play out behind them. It's largely an artistic criticism of gun violence, with images that evoke the 2015 Charleston, S.C., church massacre and hostage shootings.

"This is America" also touches on Stephon Clark's fatal shooting at the hands of two Sacramento Police Department officers, who thought Clark was holding a gun went they fired 20 shots at him on the night of March 18, authorities said. Clark, 21, was later discovered to be palming a cellphone.

In the first verse, Gambino raps, "police be trippin' now." A following verse includes the lyrics, "this is a celly (ha)/that's a tool (yeah)," using respective slang words for cellphone and gun. After he lays down the latter lines, the camera pans over to a group of five young people of color, all holding cellphones.

Mashable, Genius and The Guardian all noted the connection to Clark's death. Other iconography in the video includes a possible nod to the First Horseman of the Apocalypse, guns being treated with more respect than people and the kind of riots that flooded cities like Ferguson, Mo., and Cincinnati after unarmed black men were killed by police there.

Gambino wrote for "30 Rock" under his birth name Donald Glover before his breakthrough role on NBC's "Community," and released two gold studio albums. He stars on "Atlanta," co-directed by "This is America" collaborator Hiro Murai, and plays Lando Calrissian in "Solo: A Star Wars Story," scheduled to be released May 25.

Benjy Egel: (916) 321-1052, @BenjyEgel