The Meaning of Childish Gambino’s “Redbone”

Childish Gambino live at Governor’s Ball in 2017. Photo by Taylor Hill / Getty.

Childish Gambino’s “Redbone” has one of the finest grooves we’ve heard in the past decade. The song was released in November 2016 as the second single from Donald Glover, aka Childish Gambino’s third album, “Awaken, My Love!”.

When “Redbone” was first released it was the artist’s biggest hit to date, peaking at #12 on the Billboard Hot 100 in August of 2017, spending 35 total weeks on the chart. It has since been surpassed in popularity by the viral sensation “This Is America”, which made a huge political statement but is not nearly as pleasant of a listen.

The lyrics to “Redbone” are about a relationship plagued by paranoia and the fear of infidelity. Gambino opens with the line, “Daylight / I wake up feeling like you won’t play right / I used to know, but now that shit don’t feel right.”

Later, it is revealed that his paranoia may have been warranted, as he sings: “Too late / You wanna make it right, but now it’s too late / My peanut butter chocolate cake with Kool-Aid / I’m trying not to waste my time.”

The meaning in most of Gambino’s lyrics here is clear. This woman wants to make it up to him for breaking the trust in the relationship, but he isn’t going to waste his time.

As for the “My peanut butter chocolate cake with Kool-Aid” line this is Gambino’s way of telling us the woman he’s dating is an extremely beautiful black woman. This is also implied by the song’s title, as “Redbone” is a term commonly used in rap music to describe an attractive black woman with red undertones to her skin.

The hook, and the way the hook is produced, is the main reason why “Redbone” is so popular, with the supremely catchy “Stay woke / N***as creepin'”. This can be taken as a warning to either his girlfriends to watch out for men who are trying to sleep with them, or to men in relationships that they can’t trust other men not to try and sleep with their girlfriends.

Childish Gambino performing in Vegas in 2018. Photo by Kevin Winter / Getty.

According to producer Ludwig Göransson, the funky groove on “Redbone” was heavily influenced by Funkadelic. Gambino even sent him some Funkadelic tracks as references points for where he wanted to start with the song.

When “Redbone” and the rest of “Awaken, My Love!” was first released, many people assumed that the vocals were heavily produced to accomplish the range he reached throughout. Glover was quick to shut this down in an interview taking place in December 2016:

“There wasn’t a ton of vocal stuff done. I think people hear ‘Redbone’ and are like ‘Oh, he pitched up his vocals,’ but there was no vocal pitching on the album—I just sang differently.”

Still, many didn’t believe that the man had those kind of pipes until the song made its live television debut on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon in January 2017. Gambino performed “Redbone” and he sung his heart out to prove to everybody that he could. Watch that performance here, and listen to the studio version of the track below.

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