Childish Gambino's 'This Is America' Started as a Drake Diss Track
Before it became a No. 1 hit, “This Is America” was a Drake diss.
In a new interview with GQ, Donald Glover reveals that Childish Gambino’s 2018 single began as a Drake diss track before evolving into what it is today.
“I had that idea like three years before,” said Glover, who covers the magazine’s April/May 2023 issue. “The idea for the song started as a joke, to be completely honest. ‘This is America,’ that was all we had, that line. And it started as a Drake diss, to be honest, as like a funny way of doing it. But then I was like, this shit sounds kind of hard, though.”
The video was heavily influenced by Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” Glover and director Hiro Murai (“Atlanta”) studied the iconic video while coming up with the concept for “This Is America.”
“We studied ‘Thriller’ for a long time,” he shared. “I was like, how do you make people care about anything anymore? There’s just so much shit. Well, you have to have a moment in real time, which was like ‘SNL.'”
Gambino, who dropped the video same night he hosted and performed on “SNL,” credits the timing of the song’s release for its impact. “The feeling of what was happening at the time. It informed because of all the uprisings and riots that were happening, like it really informed like my writing and stuff.”
He also reached out to Young Thug and asked if he wanted to collaborate on a “‘We Are the World” for trap.” Thug has a writing credit on the song.
“It needed to feel continuous because it needed to feel like a moment. I feel like the internet kind of robs moments,” added Glover. “That was really the work that we put in. It’s interesting that it worked. We were like, it probably wasn’t gonna work.”
In addition to “Thriller,” Glover studied pop star Robbie Williams. “I watched his moves a lot to make sure I didn’t do the exact same thing,” he said. “I actually watched him a lot because I saw him get a lot of hate.”
While Glover didn’t elaborate on his Drake diss, GQ notes that Gambino would call out other rappers including Drake and J. Cole early on in his career, but “it didn’t even really make news.”