I got a heart, but the artichoke
Is the only thing girls want when you in that smoke
And light

from Childish Gambino – Heartbeat Lyrics on Rap Genius

Meaning

The straightforward interpretation would be to assume that the artichoke is the penis, and “smoke and light” (as in at a concert) mean success. He has a heart but girls want successful men’s penises.

“Artichoke” could also be a play on “art of choke,” as in choking a woman while having sex, a kink that, for example, Kanye has mentioned fondly. CG is saying that he misses tender sex (“where you kiss whenever you’re through”), but that some girls—like this ex—are only looking for a violent hookup now that he’s not in a relationship.

An artichoke has layers of green (CG has stacks of money) which surround a colorful center (heart). CG too has a tender center, (I got a heart), but girls are only interested in the exterior, i.e. the green/money.

Really approaching the artichoke metaphor from all angles, an artichoke is a lot like an inverted flower, green and rough on the exterior and colorful/sweet on the inside. Gambino draws a parallel to himself with this, implying that he is spiteful over the social stigma that men who display their “color”/heart on the exterior are in some way less masculine. Many women idealize the bad boy persona and if they don’t, it’s still generally recognized as socially unusual for men to express emotions as openly as women. And when men do express emotions, they are often socially castrated.

Learning that attaining the affection of women is often inversely related to how kindly you treat her or how good of a person you are is an idea that informs one of this album’s overarching themes.

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