Raise your hand if you’ve heard of Childish Gambino. Yes? No? Anyone?
I bet a good many of you haven’t–or at least not by that name. I hadn’t until my own kids introduced me to him quite a few years ago.
First a few things to note:
- I am not a huge fan of RAP.
- Even so, there are a good many RAP songs and musicians that are pretty cool.
- J.Cole has a song, For Your Eyes Only, that uses words like ‘hyperbolic’ and phrases like ‘cyclical nature of time’. Seriously. I have to give him props for his vocabulary.
- Eminem is a great lyricist. His music is narrative and relevant and authentic.
- And then there’s Childish Gambino. You may know him as Donald Glover.
Here are some fast faqs about the man himself, Childish Gambino, aka Donald Glover:
- He graduated from NYU with a degree in Dramatic Writing. Respect–and a great role model!
- He wrote 30 Rock from 2006-2009.
- He does stand up comedy.
- Won a Writer’s Guild of America Award for his writing on 30 Rock.
- He was the creator of the tv show Community.
- He’s in The Martian and is the reason Matt Damon survived!
- He’s in Spiderman: Homecoming.
- He created and stars in the show Atlanta.
- And he’s the young Lando Calrissian in the upcoming Hans Solo movie!!!
I believe in incorporating poetry into my classroom all year long. We don’t do one “poetry unit”; we do a poetry year. We are also beginning personal narratives in writing. I have always loved Childish Gambino’s song, That Power, particularly the Outro. It’s a 4+ minute story about a bus ride home from summer camp.
I had the idea of using this Outro as an introduction to personal narrative and as an example of free verse poetry. Here’s how the class period went:
*Prior knowledge: We had already taken notes on the elements of a story (exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution).
*I introduced Childish Gambino and we talked about some of the fast faqs listed above.
*We talked about the meaning of RAP (it stands for Rhythm and Poetry).
*I played the Outro of That Power.
*We discussed things about the Outro and tried to figure out some of the meaning and his emotions. For example, why does Childish Gambino refer by Michelle by name, but the girl he likes–more than likes–has no name? What does it mean that he “got on the bus a boy…and never got off. Still haven’t.”
*Then we mapped out the story elements using Kernel Essay’s memory structure. Love Gretchen Bernabei! Each of the five boxes in the Kernel Essay corresponds to the five elements of a story.
Where were you? = Exposition
Moment it started? = Rising Action
Next Moment = Climax
Final Moment = Falling Action
What you thought = Resolution
Finally, we mapped out the song in the five boxes of the Kernel Essay. The most important things I wanted the kids to take-away:
- Cool people write poetry.
- And write personal narratives.
- And make writing come alive. Childish Gambino is an excellent writer!
- Poetry and narratives are in songs.
- The ‘what you thought’, or the ‘what I learned’ part of the Outro wraps up the song.
Tomorrow we delve into our own personal narratives. I’ll take them through it step by step by writing my own: The time a giant wave ripped my son out of my arms and we almost lost him. Don’t worry, it all turned out okay. He’s 23 now and amazing!
Give That Power’s Outro a listen. It’s awesome!
Lyrics to That Power’s Outro:
This is on a bus back from camp
I’m thirteen and so are you
Before I left for camp I imagined it would be me and three or four other dudes
I hadn’t met yet, running around all summer, getting into trouble
It turned out it would be me and just one girl. That’s you
And we’re still at camp as long as we’re on the bus
And not at the pickup point where our parents would be waiting for us
We’re still wearing our orange camp t-shirts. We still smell like pineneedles
I like you and you like me and I more-than-like you
But I don’t know if you do or don’t more-than-like me
You’ve never said, so I haven’t been saying anything all summer
Content to enjoy the small miracle of a girl choosing to talk to me
And choosing to do so again the next day and so on
A girl who’s smart and funny and who, if I say something dumb for a laugh
Is willing to say something two or three times as dumb to make me laugh
But who also gets weird and wise sometimes in a way I could never be
A girl who reads books that no one’s assigned to her
Whose curly brown hair has a line running through it
From where she put a tie to hold it up while it was still wet
And unless one of our families moves to a dramatically different neighborhood
We won’t go to the same high school
So, this is kind of it for us. Unless I say something
And it might especially be it for us if I actually do say something
The sun’s gone down and the bus is quiet. A lot of kids are asleep
We’re talking in whispers about a tree we saw at a rest stop
That looks like a kid we know
And then I’m like, “Can I tell you something?”
And all of a sudden I’m telling you
And I keep telling you and it all comes out of me and it keeps coming
And your face is there and gone and there and gone
As we pass underneath the orange lamps that line the sides of the highway
And there’s no expression on it
And I think just after a point I’m just talking to lengthen the time
Where we live in a world where you haven’t said “yes” or “no” yet
And regrettably I end up using the word “destiny”
I don’t remember in what context. Doesn’t really matter
Before long I’m out of stuff to say and you smile and say, “okay”
I don’t know exactly what you mean by it, but it seems vaguely positive
And I would leave in order not to spoil the moment
But there’s nowhere to go because we’re are on a bus
So I pretend like I’m asleep and before long, I really am
I wake up, the bus isn’t moving anymore
The domed lights that line the center aisle are all on
I turn and you’re not there
Then again a lot of kids aren’t in their seats anymore
We’re parked at the pick-up point, which is in the parking lot of a Methodist church
The bus is half empty. You might be in your dad’s car by now
Your bags and things piled high in the trunk
The girls in the back of the bus are shrieking and laughing and taking their sweet time
Disembarking as I swing my legs out into the aisle to get up off the bus
Just as one of them reaches my row
It used to be our row, on our way off
It’s Michelle, a girl who got suspended from third grade for a week
After throwing rocks at my head
Adolescence is doing her a ton of favors body-wise
She stops and looks down at me
And her head is blasted from behind by the dome light, so I can’t really see her face
But I can see her smile. And she says one word: “destiny”
Then her and the girls clogging the aisles behind her all laugh
And then she turns and leads them off the bus
I didn’t know you were friends with them
I find my dad in the parking lot. He drives me back to our house and camp is over
So is summer, even though there’s two weeks until school starts
This isn’t a story about how girls are evil or how love is bad
This is a story about how I learned something and I’m not saying this thing is true or not
I’m just saying it’s what I learned
I told you something. It was just for you and you told everybody
So I learned cut out the middle man, make it all for everybody, always
Everybody can’t turn around and tell everybody, everybody already knows, I told them
But this means there isn’t a place in my life for you or someone like you
Is it sad? Sure. But it’s a sadness I chose
I wish I could say this was a story about how I got on the bus a boy
And got off a man more cynical, hardened, and mature and shit
But that’s not true. The truth is I got on the bus a boy. And I never got off the bus
I still haven’t…