Ain’t you read the fuckin’ book Things Fall Apart?

from Childish Gambino (Ft. Beldina Malaika) – Not Going Back Lyrics on Rap Genius

Meaning

spoiler alert

In the book (required reading in many American high schools), the main character, Okonkwo, is a great wrestler. However, he does something that he knew he shouldn’t do: assisted in the murder of a child prisoner that he had grown attached to. After that, things go downhill for him. He is exiled and eventually whites take over his village while he is away. The book ends with him hanging himself instead of being imprisoned.

Gambino is saying that to be successful, you have to adapt, and accept things that you can’t change… you have to accept that Things Fall Apart. Okonkwo couldn’t do that, so he killed himself. Gambino could adapt, could deal with his circumstances and rise above them, so he became successful. He “could’ve been a tragedy” if he hadn’t been able to adapt. That’s why he “Was never gonna stay the same”

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