The song features a gospel-style choir and background contributions from various American rappers. Young Thug, Slim Jxmmi, BlocBoy JB, 21 Savage and Quavo each deliver an ad-lib. Young Thug returns to supply the song's outro. The lyrics primarily address being black in the United States and gun violence in the country. It also touches on police brutality. Pitchfork's Stephen Kearse described the song as a representation of the "tightrope of being black", with the song "built on the sharp contrast between jolly, syncretic melodies and menacing trap cadences".
Media outlets reported that a number of listeners accused Gambino of plagiarism over "This Is America", pointing out the similarities between the song and "American Pharaoh" by Jase Harley. CBS News stated, "The tracks have a similar sound, and share similar themes in the lyrics." Harley stated that he felt "This Is America" was influenced by his song, but that he does not have an issue with it. Glover's manager, Fam Rothstein, denied any plagiarism.