Sweatpants, which scores two scenes in the script, will in part function as an examination of identity, context, and how and why we choose to present ourselves.
“Fuck you money”
The script opens with The Boy and his crew stunting on a club by ditching after dropping a stack of ‘fuck you money’ on the table. It illuminates the idea that rich people can do whatever they want, whenever they want. See the shots above, from Glover’s FX show Atlanta.
“Got her hair done, French braids, now she A$AP“
A$AP Rocky, who famously had his hair in french braids on the cover of his 2013 album LONG. LIVE. A$AP. Given that hair is a representation of self-expression and sex appeal, Gambino’s statement that she now looks masculine is an insult, which leads to the next line: “Bino so insensitive, she asking ‘why you say that?’” Reminiscent of Nyla asking The Boy “What is wrong with you?” after lashing out at her boyfriend, Gambino and The Boy are trapped in a cycle of hurting those around them.
“Rich kid, asshole, paint me as a villain“
Glover has routinely defended himself against critics who claim he came from a place of privilege when his career began. Gambino (and The Boy) revel in being typecast as a spoiled brat, almost as if his fulfillment of the stereotype excuses his behavior.
“Still spitting that cash flow, DJ Khaled“
A reference to Ace Hood’s 2008 song Cash Flow, which featured DJ Khaled, T-Pain, and Rick Ross. Recall that Rick Ross is cast in the role of The Boy’s father in the screenplay, further intertwining the narratives of Gambino and The Boy, following in his father’s, Rick Ross’s, footsteps.
“Yeah you got some silverware / But really are you eating though?“
These lines about eating are timed to coincide with the moment readers of the script get to a scene of The Boy and his crew at a diner, where they eat, and talk about animals eating other animals – extending the metaphor of “eating” as competition or survival. Gambino’s question seems to be: we are showing off silverware, as if we have what we need to eat, but are we really doing well?
“Breakfast lunch and dinner’s for beginners, you ain’t even know (U.O.E.N.O)”
A reference to Rocko’s 2013 hit song U.O.E.N.O, which features the previously mentioned A$AP Rocky and Rick Ross.
This acronynm-heavy lyricism began with the reference to A$AP Rocky in “french braid, now she A$AP” – and the continued practice of spelling it out emphasizes the references to other rappers throughout the track. Gambino discusses this notion of posturing, especially pertinent to rappers like Rick Ross and A$AP Rocky.
“My architect know Japanese”
An allusion to the eastern influence of The Boy’s mansion, including the prominent Buddha statue.
“I’m winning, yeah yeah, I’m winning“
An allusion to actor Charlie Sheen’s 2011 public meltdown, where Sheen appeared in multiple interviews making outrageous claims while in the throes of drug and alcohol rehab. Sheen’s most famous soundbites included descriptions of his debauchery, a claim that he had “tiger blood” and his use of “winning!” to describe his life.
being a goddamn rockstar
Gambino’s rapping on this track has been similar to Sheen’s boasts, talking about all of the money, luxury, goods, and sex he acquires as putting him above any of the naysayers. Self-aware or not, The Boy is experiencing his Sheen moment.
Charlie Sheen is the son of legendary actor Martin Sheen. The last name “Sheen” is actually a stage name. Martin Sheen’s real name is Ramón Estévez, and his invented stage name was inspired by a famous televangelist Fulton J. Sheen. Martin passed down the name to his son, Carlos Estévez, known to us as Charlie Sheen. Much like the wealthy, famous Sheen family, The Boy is the son of Rick Ross – a man who constructed an identity by taking the name of someone successful and using their new identity to acquire wealth in the entertainment industry.
Furthermore, Charlie Sheen’s fame was primarily based on his role on the sitcom Two and a Half Men. Gambino has just drawn a parallel between himself and Sheen, and on BTI, he plays and explores the roles of Donald Glover, Childish Gambino, and The Boy. Two. And a half. Men.
“Don’t be mad cause I’m doing me better than you doing you“
Rapper Problem offers the internet generation’s perfect Instagram caption. Problem’s presence is hype-man-esque, as he postures for Gambino, and “I’m doing me” is ironically voiced by this supporter, not the narrator of the song. Gambino and The Boy are examining and presenting themselves to the utmost.
Gambino then adds a couple of social media flexes, posting pictures of a stack of money and his clothing on his Instagram. See above, as Gambino and rapper Chief Keef compare stack pictures posted on social media.
“Ain’t nobody sicker, in my Fisker vroom-vroom ho“
A rare luxury electric auto manufacturer, the most visible instance of a Fisker in pop culture at this time would’ve been Ashton Kutcher’s character on Two and a Half Men driving one.
“Rich forever” here refers to Rick Ross’s instagram handle and a Ross mixtape of the same name.
“Top of the holy totem…My father owned half the MOMA / and did it with no diploma“
Considering Glover’s real father was a postal worker, this is a fictional reference, with two possibilities. First, in reference to The Boy’s father, it is a boast of wealth, saying that they owned half the artwork in the Museum of Modern Art, and didn’t need an education to do it. Second, it seems this line is referencing Jay Z’s line on the song “Who Gon Stop Me” from the Jay Z and Kanye West collab, Watch The Throne.
During interviews at this time, Gambino would often claim that he was the “son of Kanye”, adding another layer in his line about his rich father.
“I’m too fly, Jeff Goldblum“
This alludes to both the actor’s highly regarded sense of fashion as well as Goldblum’s starring role as the fly in the 1986 sci-fi film The Fly. Above, Jeff Goldblum reacting to hearing this lyric (twice).
“White hood, white hood, O-KKK“
The Boy’s outsider status is accentuated by the Palisades being a predominantly white neighborhood, which Gambino scandalously characterizes as a “white hood,” playing on symbolism tied to the white robes of the Ku Klux Klan, or KKK. In his use of “hood” lies an oscillation between comfort and danger. Early in his career, Gambino had a song called “My Hoodie,” and would tell interviewers he liked wearing one all the time because it was how he felt most comfortable.
Yet The Boy also feels out of place in The Palisades since he doesn’t fit in. Notably, the hoodie now has connotative danger due to the infamous murder of Trayvon Martin, who was shot dead as a result of alleged racial profiling. The killer attempted to justify his actions by saying Martin, who was wearing a hoodie, looked suspicious. This happened in 2012, and shortly after on the track “Eat Your Vegetables,” Childish Gambino addressed the hoodie symbolism that has become pervasive.
“I don’t give a fuck about my family name”
In the afterglow of the debauchery and “winning” of Sweatpants, Gambino breaks through all of the facade, shouting: “And I don’t give a fuck about my family name!” We then hear his fist slam a diner table, tethering together the song, screenplay, and music video, all of which feature this table slam in different but interconnected contexts.
In the screenplay, the crew now sits in a diner late at night, where Steve and Swank argue about vegetarianism. But this conversation strikes The Boy with a sense of deja vu. He can’t help but see the repetitive nature of their conversation and actions.
Like the screenplay, the video takes place at a diner at night. Gambino/The Boy walks in, sits down at a table with his crew for a while before getting up, walking outside, and texting someone on his phone. He walks back in the diner and repeats the cycle — he sits down with his crew, only this time everyone at the table is now him. He again walks outside, texts, and then walks back in the same way once again. In this third and final loop, everyone in the diner has his face.
The music video is also incredibly similar to the diner scene (left) in Being John Malkovich which, perhaps not coincidentally, stars Charlie Sheen (right).
The music video thus has fascinating implications with identity and the continuous struggle for self-improvement, or, in the social media age, of showing off in grander and grander ways in an attempt to construct some incredible version of ourselves.
This loop structure of the video also aligns with the cyclical, repetitive nature of Gambino’s boasts in the song’s verses. This is reflected in the song’s lyrics, from emulating Charlie Sheen to then referencing his replacement, Ashton Kutcher. From telling the audience “you ain’t even know” to then pulling the hood back and explaining “just so you know.” Nearly every aspect of the first verse gets one-upped in the second, as Gambino retraces his steps and pushes for victory over himself.
At the end of the third loop in the music video, everyone in the diner now has Gambino’s face, and he slams his fist on the table. This is triggered in the screenplay by a kid in a fake 90’s hat writing “roscoe’s wetsuit” on the wall. The Boy gets up and goes to ask the Hat Kid what “roscoe’s wetsuit” means. Hat Kid repeatedly says he doesn’t know, that he just saw it on the internet. This visibly frustrates The Boy. Fam comes and brings him back to the table. As they sit down, Hat Kid shouts, “it means I sat on your mom’s face.” When the Boy slams his fists on the table, the entire diner is silenced in shock. Without looking up, he says “Tell me what it is or I’ll cut you open and take the answer.”
This is the moment. The slam on the table, the moment when the repetitive selfishness of stunting and castigating others breaks The Boy. Gambino and The Boy have had enough.
You may turn into a version of you might not like. This is precisely what The Boy is coming to understand about himself, stuck in a loop of narcissistic actions and pursuits, unable to escape who he’s become. His initial attempt to break the cycle — driving to Oakland to rekindle a connection — failed him, so he’s fallen back to what he knows. Who he is. Stuck in the loop.
“But none of it matters cause we’re doing it for ourselves!“
We can’t just live for ourselves because what we do, how we interact, how we present ourselves has an impact on the outside world. We have to care about what other people think and feel, because if it was just us, we’d be pointless. We’d be stuck in a narcissistic loop. We are all a part of something larger than ourselves. And so we have to see ourselves in others, like The Boy in the diner, all connected, all moving to some invisible rhythm in the orchestra of human existence.
Performance Art and Release Dates
The initial release for “Sweatpants” appeared to be a leak on November 24, 2013, and Glover took to twitter with a stream of irate comments, blasting people’s “lust for money and impatience” for getting in the way of his plans. Remember, though, that Glover has been engaged in a wide-spanning act of performance art through the rollout of BTI, and that we can’t take his anger at face value.
The day of the music video’s premiere, which was April 14, 2014, serves as a second release date. The music video was rolled out along with the Deep Web Blog, a collection of content including prose, poetry, code, images, and video related to Gambino’s tour. This time, in an escalation of his anger when the song was first leaked, he specifically called out his label for mishandling the release of his work, and asked other, larger music labels to buy him out of his contract.
April 14, 2014 4/14/14 41414
Even the release date may have been intentional. April 14, 2014 – 4/14/14 – 41414. A palindrome, a repeating, looping sequence of numbers, reflective of the structure of both the lyrics and video.
Some of Gambino’s frustration may be from the mysterious alternate music video for “Sweatpants.” A behind-the-scenes clip for this alternate shoot appeared and then was removed from YouTube.
The music video that would have come from this footage was never released. It’s eerily similar to the one we do have, and our mind can only reel with the possibilities for what could have been. Regardless, all of the hubbub surrounding the various release dates isn’t a coincidence. Glover’s repetitive frustration, online presentation, and one-upmanship of self-expression is reflected in the verse structure of Sweatpants. While we can appreciate this as a neat piece of contextual performance art, it also reinforces that we must try to take the entirety of these moments in the BTI world into account when dissecting the work.