Childish Gambino‘s “This Is America” was praised upon its 2018 release as a searing, poignant commentary on race and police brutality in the nation. But, honestly, according to a new GQ cover story interview with Donald Glover, the song started as something much less noble: a jokey Drake diss track.


“I had the idea three years before. I told [director] Hiro [Murai] the idea, and he’s like, ‘I really want to do that.’… The idea for the song started as a joke,” he said in a video accompanying the interview in which the actor/rapper broke down his most iconic roles, including Lando Calrissian in Solo, Earn in Atlanta and Troy Barnes in Community. “To be completely honest, ‘This is America’ — that was all we had was that line. It started as a Drake diss, to be honest, as like a funny way of doing it. But then I was like, this s–t sounds kind of hard though. So I was like, let me play with it.”

Glover’s Gambino heated up a mostly one-sided feud with Drizzy in 2014 when he said during an Australian gig this his rapper alter ego was better than Drizzy, Kendrick Lamar and ScHoolboy Q combined. He later said his bravado was just part of the gig, no hate intended and the two have reportedly become friends in he years since.

He said he and Murai studied Michael Jackson’s iconic 1983 “Thriller” video for a long time to figure out “how do you make something… how do you make people care about anything anymore?… Well, you have to have a moment in real time.” What informed the song that went on to win record and song of the year at the 20919 Grammy Awards, he said, was all the Black Lives Matter social protests at the time, which inspired him to make what he described as a “‘We Are The World,’ like for trap [music.]”

And, in addition to shooting it on film for added drama, he said it was three total takes to give it that “continuous” feel.

The interview also touched on Glover meeting Ludwig Göransson when the future Oscar-winning composer (and Gambino collaborator) was working on the music for Community while describing their “amazing chemistry.” Glover also talked about how not getting a shot at Saturday Night Live — pal Amy Poehler reportedly told him his edgy stand-up is what scotched the deal — was probably a good thing.

“I dodged so many bullets. Me being on SNL would’ve killed me,” he said. “I got friends who made it on SNL and, at the time, I was like, damn. But if I got on SNL, my career wouldn’t have happened. Thank God I didn’t get some of those pilots. I wanted so desperately to be on Parks and Rec because it was the cool, hipster show.”

The interview about Glover’s new production company Gilga, included news of Glover mentoring former first daughter Malia Obama on her first short film. “The first thing we did was talk about the fact that she will only get to do this once. ‘You’re Obama’s daughter,’” he recalled telling her. “So if you make a bad film, it will follow you around.”

His longtime collaborator and Gilga creative partner, Fam Udeorji, said the plan was to support Malia in her creative endeavors however they can.  “Understanding somebody like Malia’s cachet means something,” he said. “But we really wanted to make sure she could make what she wanted — even if it was a slow process.”

Watch the GQ interview below.

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