Don­ald Glover and the state of ‘black ge­nius’

Daily Times (Primos, PA) - - MUSIC - Phillip L. Cun­ning­ham Quin­nip­iac Univer­sity (The Con­ver­sa­tion is an in­de­pen­dent and non­profit source of news, anal­y­sis and commentary from aca­demic ex­perts.

Don­ald Glover, un­der his hip-hop pseu­do­nym Child­ish Gam­bino, recently re­leased a provoca­tive mu­sic video for his sin­gle, “This Is Amer­ica.”

The video, with its vi­o­lent im­agery and ref­er­ences to black­face min­strels, came as a sur­prise for Child­ish Gam­bino fans pre­vi­ously ac­cus­tomed to his witty, sar­donic style. As a re­sult, it has been the sub­ject of much anal­y­sis by fans and schol­ars alike.

As a black pop­u­lar cul­ture scholar, I find the most in­trigu­ing con­ver­sa­tions have been about Glover’s cre­ative ge­nius. The fo­cus on Glover’s cre­ativ­ity shifts us away from dis­cus­sions of his black nerd per­sona, about which I have pre­vi­ously writ­ten. Mu­sic has been one of the few are­nas in which African-Amer­i­cans have been af­forded ge­nius sta­tus. The lo­cus for this shift is hip-hop. Hip-hop, how­ever, his­tor­i­cally has been sub­ject to crit­i­cism, not ac­claim.

These procla­ma­tions of Glover’s ge­nius co­in­cide not only with the hip-hop’s com­ing of age, but also with Glover’s cre­ative growth.

Recently, the genre has been re­ceiv­ing its ge­nius bona fides, with Lin-Manuel Mi­randa’s hiphop mu­si­cal “Hamil­ton” re­ceiv­ing the 2016 Pulitzer Prize in drama and rap­per Ken­drick La­mar re­ceiv­ing the 2018 Pulitzer Prize in mu­sic for his al­bum, “DAMN.” These events co­in­cide with hiphop sur­pass­ing rock as the most-pur­chased mu­sic genre in the United States.

Glover is no stranger to be­ing hailed as a ge­nius, though it mostly has been for his work on his FX se­ries “At­lanta.” “This Is Amer­ica,” how­ever, rep­re­sents Glover’s mat­u­ra­tion as a record­ing artist. Though also praised for Child­ish Gam­bino’s 2016 funk al­bum “Awaken, My Love!” he faced con­cerns about whether it was an ode to or mere im­i­ta­tion of soul and funk leg­end Ge­orge Clin­ton.

None­the­less, “This Is Amer­ica,” like “At­lanta,” mostly has been lauded for its au­then­tic­ity and orig­i­nal­ity, both of which his­tor­i­cally have served as hall­marks of ge­nius. Both use hip-hop as the means for, and sub­ject of, Glover’s in­ter­ro­ga­tion of race and rep­re­sen­ta­tion and sug­gest that he has shed the fri­vol­ity for which Child­ish Gam­bino pre­vi­ously had been known.

Ge­nius is of­ten con­tested and granted to a rare few. In­deed, though Glover and hip-hop grad­u­ally have been af­forded ge­nius sta­tus, black women in hip-hop have not.

Who grants ge­nius sta­tus? Much of Glover’s crit­i­cal ac­claim has come from white crit­ics, which ex­plains why some black lis­ten­ers ap­proach Glover and “This Is Amer­ica” with trep­i­da­tion.

That said, ris­ing film­maker and Glover’s con­tem­po­rary Lena Waithe – known best for her work on “Mas­ter of None” – her­alded “This Is Amer­ica” as the “truth dipped in choco­late bril­liance.” “This Is Amer­ica” in­di­cates that Glover may be reach­ing his prime. MICHAEL CHRISTOPHER IS OFF His Rock Mu­sic Menu col­umn will re­turn next week.

PHOTO BY JOR­DAN STRAUSS/INVISION/AP

Don­ald Glover ar­rives at the pre­miere of “Solo: A Star Wars Story” at El Cap­i­tan Theatre on Thurs­day, May 10, 2018, in Los Angeles.

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