Childish Gambino’s “Boogieman” is a funk-inspired track with some spooky influences that takes aim at stereotypical and biased racial fears.
This week, we’ve been looking at songs fit to find their way on any Halloween playlist. On Monday, we listened to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ “Heads Will Roll”, with its music video featuring a dancing werewolf. And yesterday, we looked at Billie Eilish’s incredibly creepy and equally catchy “Bury a Friend”, whose music video plays out like a miniature horror film.
We’re keeping the Halloween theme going today, with Childish Gambino’s appropriately named track, “Boogieman”, from his 2016 album, “Awaken, My Love!”. We’ll see how he uses a biting humor in this song to address a sensitive topic, all while making a pretty great Halloween track in the process.
But before we get into the song itself, let’s first take a quick look at the album it appeared on.
Awaken, My Love!
“Awaken, My Love!” was released in December of 2016 by Glassnote Records, and is Donald Glover’s third studio album as Childish Gambino. In terms of direction and tone, the album was a radical departure from his previous two hip hop-heavy albums. Although, to be fair, if you listen closely to album like “Because the Internet”, you can hear the beginnings of this departure. An emphasis on R&B, funk, and soul takes over the feel of “Awaken, My Love!”.
Three singles were released to promote the album: “Me And Your Mama”, “Redbone”, and “Terrified”.
“Awaken, My Love” debuted at No. 5 on the U.S. Billboard 200, and was generally met with positive reviews. The album was nominated for Album of the Year and Best Urban Contemporary Album at the 2018 Grammy Awards. The single, “Redbone” also earned Grammy nominations for Record of the Year and Best R&B Song. “Redbone” won the Grammy Award for Best Traditional R&B Performance.
Of all the songs on “Awaken, My Love”, “Boogieman” is the one that most closely brushes up against the genre of rock and prog. Even so, it’s safe to say that the clearest influence comes from funk. The song is driven by a repeating guitar riff, and a melody that Glover matches with his vocals. The filter Glover uses on his vocals, along with his delivery, is what gives “Boogieman” the strained kind of quality that for some reason makes me think of Ozzy Osborne.
There are also some great and somewhat campy Halloween sounds to be found on “Boogieman”. These include choral voices, as well as a haunting, echoing laugh toward the end of the song.
In the title, Glover combines two words to create the basis behind the concept of the “Boogieman”. The title is a play on the ‘bogeyman’, a mythical evil creature that parents would use to scare their children into behaving or going to bed early. This is combined with ‘boogie’, a type of music that originated in African American culture in the late 19th century, and reached the mainstream in the 1920s.
This combination of words is a commentary on racially-based fear of black communities. And in the lyrics, we can see examples of how that plays out.
Glover pulls no punches when it comes to delivering the truth we’ve all seen through the increasing number of viral videos depicting police violence on unarmed black citizens.
“With a gun in your hand
I’m the boogieman
I’m gonna come and get you”
Glover directs these opening lyrics to the police. Even though they’re the ones who are armed, they still view those with black skin a threat due to their inherent biases.
“If you point a gun at my rising sun
Though we’re not the one
But in the bounds of your mind
We have done the crime”
The last two lines of this stanza accurately portray the real problem of stereotypical biases among law enforcement. There’s no innocent until proven guilty. There’s only the “good guys” getting rid of the boogiemen.
While I don’t enjoy getting political in these articles, sometimes the content, nature, or message of a song demands it. Our number one priority here is to accurately deliver and explain the message of whatever song we look at. That being said, I believe Glover speaks the hard truth that few want to hear or talk about in “Boogieman”. I hope that in covering it, I’ve contributed even a little bit to bringing more awareness to these issues. The difficult conversations are the ones we should be having.
That about wraps up our discussion for today. I hope you enjoyed listening to Childish Gambino’s “Boogieman”. We’ll be back tomorrow with another song you can add to your Halloween playlist.