Sunday night, allegations of plagiarism broke out against Childish Gambino, the rap alter ego of actor and musician Donald Glover, after an impromptu performance of his hit song “This Is America” with Jamie Foxx at Sunday’s BET awards. Many believe that Glover’s 2018 hit, which discusses the harsh realities of many black Americans, was heavily inspired by New Jersey rapper Jase Harley’s 2016 song “American Pharoah.”
Murmurings about the song’s supposed unoriginality first appeared on Reddit, where a thread on the r/Hiphopheads subreddit currently has more than 2500 comments. Things escalated when Twitter user Big Business, a music pundit and self-proclaimed troll, tweeted after Foxx/Glover’s performance on Sunday night, “Jamie Foxx talking about ‘This Is America’ and we found out Donald Glover stole the song today.” He later retweeted another user who accused Glover of the same thing.
Twitter, predictably, exploded, with users quickly taking sides in the imagined beef between Glover and Harley. Many shrugged it off, acknowledging that sampling older songs is pretty common in the industry, while some fans expressed disappointment over Glover’s alleged plagiarism.
Fans have noted that while the beats behind each track are distinct, the song’s structures are strikingly similar, and Glover’s flow is at times nearly indistinguishable from Harley’s. Both tracks also deal with the reality of being black in an increasingly hostile America, with thinly veiled references to police brutality and damaging stereotypes—though, of course, subject matter alone does not a plagiarized song make.
Fam Rothstein, one half of Glover’s management team, took to Twitter on Monday to squelch all rumblings of plagiarism. “This song is 3 yrs old, and we have pro tools files to prove it,” he tweeted. “But fuck you and your moms, and your future fetuses.” Rothstein later referred to his tweet as an official comment from Glover’s label.
Harley, for his part, seems to be taking the allegations in stride. In a series of comments on his Instagram feed, he revealed, “I always felt my song [‘American Pharoah’] inspired [‘This Is America’] lol from the first time I heard it.” Harley said he wasn’t looking to cash in on any royalties, but “a shout out would be cool.”
“It’s all love at the end of the day,” he continued. “I’m just glad my music could’ve been an influence to him and glad ppl took notice.” Harley noted that “all artists get inspired by others” and called Glover “a talented artist either way.”
Glover has yet to respond to the allegations, and his Twitter page seemed to have been cleared of all but one tweet as of Monday afternoon: a link to the “This Is America” video.