The close of the year brings an air of reflection. It forces people to look back on the past 365 days and reminisce on the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, be it in the personal, political or pop culture realm. Luckily, the new video from A$AP Rocky, “Gunz n Butta,” helps deliver this reflection, and it does so with a silver bow.
The aptly named “Gunz n Butta” references the classic guns and butter economic policies, which are typically centered around allocating government spending on the military (guns) and basic necessities such as food (butter). The presence of gun violence in this country is telling of America’s dedication to guns, rather than butter, and looking back at American history, this mostly affects the underprivileged and minority populations. Speckled with nuanced details that point to a broader narrative, the music video for Rocky’s newest track underscores his understanding of this disparity.
The video opens with a shot of Rocky, sporting a fluorescent yellow jacket and yellow bandana, atop a vintage race car speeding through a desert landscape. The windows of the car double as screens; suddenly, the camera narrows in to the window screen and the shot cuts to a classroom where the students and teacher are replaced by dummy-dolls. Yellow and black target circles are plastered to their temples and juxtapose the seemingly innocent classroom setting.
The details of the classroom — from the “thirteen colonies homework” to the semi-erased names of countries, including Bolivia, Argentina, Ethiopia and Colombia — are a testament to America’s inability to understand its history of terror, even in a safe space such as a school. Instead, the U.S. has often deflected this blame and pointed the finger at other countries, many of which are already plagued with their own problems, creating a cycle that only perpetuates a false notion of who is good and who is evil.
The classroom explodes and the limbs of the dummy-doll students rain down amongst the ash and rubble.
The scene changes to an antiquated commercial for Guns and Butter cigarettes. The man on screen, a hearty white man garbed in a tweed jacket, dutifully sells the product, claiming it to be “richer than ever before!” Cigarette production, in all of its dangerous glory, generates about $15.5 billion annually, a shockingly low number in comparison to the $51.3 billion made within the firearm industries. Rocky’s incorporation of this particular campaign supports the notion that American gun production can be seen as a social experiment of sorts. People participate in industries that are killing them, and the government rarely steps in to regulate to avoid losing profit and support from privatized companies.
How many people had to die of lung cancer until something was done with the tobacco industry? How many schools have to be terrorized before something is done about America’s gun violence epidemic?
The scene that follows showcases a chicken production plant dominated by bright reds, yellows and a glaring overhead light, which switches the time period back to modern day. Slabs of meat plop onto a conveyor belt, ready to be packaged and distributed. In a different yet similar factory, newspapers are stretched across a vast assembly line, their content also ready for mass consumption. It then cuts to a 3-D printing of a plastic gun, forming the narrative of the very real threat of mass manufactured plastic weaponry, a dangerous addition to the consumerist society.
The frame transitions, and a marching band of sailors walking through a black tunnel comes into view. The shot widens, and the black tunnel is revealed to be the bullet chamber of a pistol being cleaned by a Dylann Roof lookalike, the Charleston church shooter. The basic flaw of the “gun” side of the gun and butter economic model is that it’s not funding the military; it’s funding murderers who, after a lifetime of supposed neglect and abuse, carry out their hellish tasks in the form of mass shootings.
The video continues. Next, young white boys with the same yellow and black targets plastered to their temples are bound by straitjackets and smoking cigarettes, dancing to the chopped beat. They are products of the “mass shooter archetype,” which was created by the media’s decision to give attention to these murderers.
Some argue that the incorporation of the Roof lookalike is only working to perpetuate the unhealthy attention that is given to mass shooters, as it works to potentially encourage others to commit atrocities in the hopes of gaining fame. However, one of the purposes of “Gunz n Butta” is to comment on the inherent racism in this country, which Roof, an unabashed white supremacist, sought to propagate when he massacred an all-black congregation in Charleston.
The next scene depicts the typical rural American family: a pickup truck with a dead deer in the back, a quaint house, the family dog and a young boy carrying a hunting rifle. Rocky immediately counters this image with an underground rap concert that he himself is the star of. By juxtaposing these two images, the former population serving as the antithesis to gun control and the latter being blamed for gun violence, Rocky is able to further elaborate on the aforementioned notion of pointing a finger in the most “convenient” direction rather than at the truth.
In the same light, the video alludes to the fact that racism bleeds into the Latino community as well. The video shows the audience two Latino men scraping the serial numbers off guns, with their gruff appearance insinuating they are a part of a cartel and participate in illegal gun sales. The shadow of a SWAT member dominates the window, and as the camera moves to get a closer look, the shot transports viewers from the house to a suburban neighborhood. The SWAT team narrows in on a picturesque blue house, suggesting that the worst danger does not lie within the Black and Latino communities, but rather in the suburban white population.
Rocky reminds the audience that looks are inherently deceiving and that perhaps the prettiest facades hide the darkest secrets.
The narrative comes full circle as the video returns to that desert landscape with Rocky atop the car. The car windows continue their reel, featuring fast food commercials, until the vehicle eventually crashes — the inevitable fate America is driving toward.
Rocky’s understanding of the dangerous societal issues, such as gun violence and racism, is artistically showcased through flawlessly developed imagery. Every bit is stylized, which is perhaps a little more problematic than not. People have become desensitized to the aesthetic, desensitized to stories of mass murder that blast the headlines of news apps.
While “Gunz n Butta” does well in eliciting emotion and starting conversation, it is nonetheless ironically mass-produced and meant to be consumed by millions, 3.9 million to be exact. Perhaps this is his point — that change does not come from consumption, but from action.