When it comes to weed, Donald Glover gets it.
He may be a dynamic, multi-hyphenate artist with a complex-yet-zen philosophy on weed, but at the end of the day, he understands what it is that drives people to weed and why they use it.
For years, Glover has claimed a more nuanced view as to why people, especially people of color, smoke cannabis. Glover’s film, television, and musical work point to the joy and trauma he has experienced as a black man in America. His philosophy on marijuana use seems to be twofold: one part creativity and one part coping mechanism.
In a 2018 New Yorker profile, Glover explained that anxiety, fear, and stress are why the characters in “Atlanta” smoke weed. “The characters aren’t smoking weed all the time because it’s cool but because they have PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder]. — every black person does.”
In a March 2019 study from Frontiers in Pediatrics that followed cannabis use among a small pool of 595 black ninth-grade students in the Midwest over the course of 13 years, it found that black men’s stress and anxiety related to racial discrimination makes them three times more likely to smoke cannabis. This might be the first study to really dissect what fear of racial discrimination means for marijuana use.
Glover has been saying it for years.
Glover is fresh on the heels of the release of “Guava Island” with co-star Rihanna, now available on Amazon and directed by “Atlanta” director Hiro Murai, the 55-minute film premiered at the 2019 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Indio, California, where the artist also performed as Day 1 headliner. While Glover didn’t even mention the movie during his set at Coachella, he did hit a joint with a member of the audience. “Don’t feel peer pressure, there’s just 100,000 people watching,” Glover joked.
— Zenteno 🔥 (@jhonlook) April 13, 2019
Here are three examples of Glover’s complex-yet-zen philosophy on weed.
1. Weed (and Vape) References in Childish Gambino Songs
In the music video for “This Is America,” which garnered more than 528 million views in 11 months, Glover’s musical alias Childish Gambino danced through chaos and tragedy. Nearing the end of the video, there is a deafening moment of silence. Glover calmly catches his breath and for a moment, all we hear is the flick of a lighter as he lights a joint.
In between waves of ecstatic dancing and being traumatized by the fiery and oppressive world around him, he finds a moment to smoke weed. The silence is impactful — as if the audience is able to take its first breath along with him. Then Glover flicks the joint and continues dancing fiercely on the hood of a car.
Childish Gambino in this video needs to smoke in order to deal with the stress of being inside that constant push and pull of joy and tragedy. The video paints weed as a coping mechanism for dealing with constant, imminent violence.
Childish Gambino’s music over the years has countless references to cannabis, here are a few of the most notable. The lyrics touch on both celebration and escape, orbiting a theme of cannabis as a refuge from the world.
Spoiler alert: He vapes.
2. Cannabis Use in ‘Atlanta’ is Complex, Pervasive, and Therapeutic
In Glover’s Emmy-award winning FX series “Atlanta,” the characters don’t smoke weed in the same cliche scenarios viewers are accustomed to seeing portrayed on TV, especially comedy. In his own Kubrick-esque way, he is pointing to weed use, once again, as a coping mechanism. Cannabis is a somewhat affordable therapy for the insanity of life, but one with its own risk.
Donald Glover said in this New Yorker interview in March 2018 that anxiety, fear, stress are why the characters in “Atlanta” smoke. “It’s scary to be at the bottom,” Glover said, “yelling up out of the hole, and all they shout down is ‘Keep digging! We’ll reach God soon!’”
Glover’s character Earn is rolling weed or smoking a joint in nearly 90% of the scenes we see him in, even though in Season 1, he is homeless and unable to afford basic life necessities. Earn prioritizes weed, it appears, because of its calming effect on his psyche.
If you want to feel even a fraction of the fear he is pointing to, watch Season 1, episode 6, entitled “Don’t Forget Your Drug Test.” No spoilers, but you will want to dab yourself to sleep after watching the anxiety-inducing episode in which Van (played by Zazie Beetz) smokes weed the night before having to submit a drug test for work. It serves as another example of cannabis use leading to grave consequences for those who, in living in a traumatic world, ironically need to smoke weed to deal with that world.
The character Alfed Miles, aka Paper Boi (played poignantly by Brian Tyree Henry), sells drugs and among them, weed. But weed is the only drug that he uses. Unfortunate circumstances in his unlicensed drug dealing experiences do come along with risk. “Atlanta” is always reminding viewers of the dangerous territory he walks on as he’s simply trying to survive. In Season 1, Episode 4, Alfred touches on this ethos: “That’s what rap is — making the best out of a bad situation.” Al’s experiences are not comforting the viewers in any way. Glover referred to this the “eat your vegetables” part of the show.
Darius is also a Buddhist monk of a stoner who is, in fact, wise in spite of his “smoking buddy” persona.
3. ‘I Work Better High’
Glover told BET in a red-carpet interview in 2017 that he is better at creating when he is high. The artist is seen as a perfectionist to those who work closest with him, and in his own words, his cannabis use propels his creative visions.
When asked if the joints they smoke on screen in “Atlanta” are fake cannabis “prop” weed or the real deal: “Sometimes we sneak weed in there. I work better high.”
Glover touched again on how weed intertwines with his creative process with The New Yorker, in response to him being “complicated” and upset over some sound issues following a show: “To be honest, I was probably just high. I am complicated, though. People expect me to be one thing —’You’re a musician!’ ‘You’re a comedian!’ ‘You’re a coon!’ — and I was just feeling high and pinned down.”
Cannabis pervades rap — it would be easier to make a list of rappers who don’t smoke weed than a list of those who do — but the way Glover representation of cannabis use exists in its own realm. Weed as therapy and performance art. Glover’s existence is as paradoxical and impactful as his portrayal of weed use. And that’s part of his magic.