childish gambino plagiarism

Childish Gambino Accused of Copyright Infringement in 'This is America'

Life comes at you fast. And we all know what they say about Karma. (She's a female dog, apparently.)

this is america copyright infringement
Donald Glover, performing as Childish Gambino, vocalist on 'This is America'

This is America's Success

Childish Gambino experienced a tremendous success with his recent outrage-baiting single and music video entitled 'This is America,' in which he repeats a lot of nonsensical phrases paired with imagery that insinuates the worst about the United States, allowing the listener to fill in the blanks and connect the dots.

Of course many projected whatever they wanted on the nearly blank canvas of the song's lyrics, turning it into a social justice battle cry that represented any movement they needed it to.

This song is admittedly a breath of fresh air, showing that breaking the mold and being original (or is it?) is what people are starving for. If you never heard it, give it a quick listen at least through the first chorus so you can hear how blatantly it ripped off a previous release.

The hypocrisy of it all, and directly perpetuated by Childish Gambino himself, is the idea promoted using the song that African American individuals aren't allowed to succeed in this country. Some of the lyrics include lines such as:

"This is America, don't catch you slipping up. Police be tripping now. Black man, get your money. You just a black man in this world, you just a barcode. You just a big dawg, I just kenneled him in the backyard."

The absurdity of using Donald Glover as your poster child for oppression is lost on most people. This is the guy who not only has the number one single in the country and in most countries on the planet, and has starred in the top comedy television shows.

He's also currently producing and acting in his own show that's winning every Primetime Emmy, Golden Globe, and basically any other accolade you can remember exists. Sounds pretty oppressed to me.

Jase Harley's American Pharaoh

One of the millions of astute listeners and students of hip-hop out there found 'This is America' strangely familiar. He noticed it was directly influenced (stolen from) his favorite artist Jase Harley. It turns out that is more than heavily influenced by Harley's song 'American Pharaoh.'

The title already exposes the plagiarism. As you press play and hear the intro with a chorus of singers repeating "Yeah" you might still brush it off as a coincidence.

Then the military style snare drum kicks in. Then the verse begins and you hear the exact same kick drum sound and nearly the same kick drum pattern and similar bass line.

Then the most telling part is that Childish Gambino not only copies Jase Harley's flow, but uses much of the exact same wordage in the same phrasing. Just check it out for yourself:

When this was discovered, people began to immediately speculate on what the deal was.

The Speculation & Harley Speaks

Fans of Jase Harley began to question why the truth of the matter took so long to surface.

On Twitter, someone said that they suspect Harley's legal team reached out to Donald Glover and was willing to not pursue legal action or draw attention in exchange for a settlement. This is of course complete conjecture until we hear from Harley himself, which didn't take long.

Jase Harley American Pharoah copyright infringement
Jase Harley, composer and vocalist on 'American Pharoah'

Jase Harley went on record on Twitter and Instagram stating the following:

"I always felt my song inspired it lol from the first time I heard it. yeaaa lol it's cool tho.. glad they liked my song. it's all love. lol word a shout out would be cool. all good tho.. he's a great artist. dope I could've had some influence on the record. I feel extremely humbled to be recognized and labeled as one of the original inspirations for one of the most important pieces of music and visual art of our time."

People then began discussing how much money Harley could receive on what is a clear cut copyright infringement case. This led to speculation that his calm and submissive Twitter response is part of a gag order as part of an overall settlement agreement.

Gambino Camp's Rebuttal

Who knows, but it's pretty clear. This is a classic case of plagiarism. To make matters worse, Fam Rothstein from Childish Gambino's management team is claiming they have the Pro Tools project showing an age of over 3 years.

This would make 'This is America' one year older than 'American Pharaoh,' proving they didn't steal this song. Oh, and also white bloggers are to blame for this (more race baiting). He then continued on with a string of obscenities against anyone questioning his version of the story.

Unless Jase Harley managed to hack into Childish Gambino's studio and steal the Pro Tools project and quickly release a version of the song 2 years before Gambino could, I'm not buying it.

And trust me, it's not just white bloggers talking about it. Race has nothing to do with copyright infringement. Nobody gets a free pass.

Grammys Update

Childish Gambino was nominated for 5 Grammy awards this year for this song. Of the 5, he won 4 total, including:

  • Best Song
  • Best Music Video
  • Best Record
  • Best Rap/Sung Performance
  • R&B Song (Nomination Only)

Donald Glover himself was not at the Grammys to accept his awards in person. You may have some thoughts already as to why he might have not shown up, pertaining to mitigating possible future legal issues.

That would be purely speculation at this point, but we're allowed to ponder. But to top it all off, he even declined an invitation to perform his hit song in front of the live and global television audience.

Despite all this, I'm absolutely positive if Gambino keeps up the momentum he'll be on his way to joining the top 10 richest rappers in the world within the next few years, especially with his TV deals included.

You may be happy to hear that Jase Harley is finally becoming vocal on the matter. He accepted an interview on the street from TMZ and stated:

"It's a loss for the culture ... What is it saying if the academy is recognizing something that is not original ... It’s almost like the house slave heard the chants from the field. And he took that song back with him, and sung it back to the house. And instead of trying to liberate the people in the field, he got a bigger room in the house ... He had a chance to say something ... He should have been there for the people...

When asked if he felt he should at least have credit as a songwriter on the song, Harley responded "Absolutely." Harley creates incredible songs, and his voice is a powerful tool on the mic and over his beats. It's just as strong off the mic. I'm glad to see him speaking up and defending himself and the music industry at large.

Jared H. Headshot Jared has surpassed his 20th year in the music industry. He acts as owner, editor, lead author, and web designer of LedgerNote, as well as co-author on all articles. He has released 4 independent albums and merchandise to global sales. He has also mixed, mastered, & recorded for countless independent artists. Learn more about Jared & The LN Team here.