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"Watching Their Souls Speak": Interpreting the New Music Videos of Childish Gambino, Kendrick Lamar, and Beyoncé Knowles-Carter

Creative Commons 'BY-NC-ND' version 4.0 license

The release of Childish Gambino’s music video “This is America” spurred a flurry of discourse among hip hop enthusiasts around the world. Many are comparing his work to that of Pulitzer Prize-winning artist Kendrick Lamar’s music video “HUMBLE.” and Beyoncé Knowles-Carter’s album Lemonade. In this thesis, I argue that recent releases from all three of these artists have ushered forth a new set of aesthetic standards starkly different from the promotional films of the past.

The videos under consideration in this thesis have distinctive political messages, signify upon the intergenerational trauma within the African American experience, and work to develop deeper meaning in tandem with the music – neither their audio nor visuals can stand alone. By holding current popular critiques in periodicals such as Rolling Stone, The New York Times, Pitchfork, and The Guardian against analytical techniques developed by hip hop scholars such as Cheryl Keyes and Tricia Rose, this thesis unveils new ways in which hip hop artists are disseminating ideologies to their audiences. Through complex webs of signification and pushing forward the stories of underrepresented peoples, these artists have ushered in a new era of meaningful popular media.

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