Donald Glover is a comedian, actor, and rapper. When I first encountered his work, it was through a sketch comedy group, Derrick Comedy, which he starred in with DC Pierson and Dominic Dierkes. These sketches exploded with my group of friends during our freshman year of college, particularly Keyboard Kid and Girls Are Not To Be Trusted. A few years later, Donald Glover landed the role of Troy in Community, hands down one of the funniest shows on television.
This background is important because when I read about his rap group, Childish Gambino, on Twitter, I assumed it was centered around comedy. That is to say, I thought it was joke.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
The Childish Gambino EP, which is a follow-up to Cul de Sac, is absolutely amazing. It is the rap album I have always been waiting for. I just didn’t know it until I pressed play. I have liked rap songs in the past, but the vast majority of those have been joke songs or something that is a tribute to pop culture. This is different.
Yes, there is humor and pop culture references layered into the lyrics but there is also a hard edge. These raps have the energy and intensity of gangsta rap but instead of rapping about whores and drive-by shootings and rapes Glover raps about believing in yourself. He takes on his critics which seem to be partly in the black community, not believing he acts “black enough.” As the lyrics say in the closing track “Not Going Back”: “I’m sorry babe/ I act me/ I don’t act black/ Whatever that be.” He also takes on his racist critics.
During 2010, Donald Glover used his twitter account (@DonaldGlover) to launch a campaign to get an audition to play Peter Parker in Sony’s reboot of the Spider-man franchise. He was met with a lot of support but also a great deal of prejudice. An internet backlash erupted, crying out that Peter Parker is white and could never, and should never, be played by a black actor. Even though there is nothing about Peter Parker’s story that makes him uniquely white. Or any race for that matter. That’s what makes the story universal. Glover’s response to this also appears in “Not Going Back”: “Couldn’t see me as Spider-man but now I’m spittin’ venom/ Now you paying attention/ Pick your fucking face up/ When I want to be a superhero, I just wake up/ Renaissance Man with a Hollywood buzz/ I refuse to go back to not liking who I was.”
These are the words of a man that is proud of who he is. He has gotten to a good place in his life and he did it by being himself. That is the overriding theme of the entire album. And I believe that is what makes it universal and why anyone could listen to this album and fall in love with it.
Here’s a taste:
From a technical aspect, the lyrics are unbelievably clever. There are rhymes and ideas that I have never heard before and they are revealing of Glover’s intelligence and level of education. And these moments come so fast and furious it is hard to believe.
Musically, Childish Gambino’s EP is also impressive. The opening of the first track “Be Alone” is a vast and epic soundscape. It sounds like the beginning of a journey and instantly pulls you in. As you progress through the album the music of the tracks convey triumphs and conflicts, culminating in “Not Going Back” which sounds like a battle for most of the rap with fast and rapid percussion. But as it reaches the end the rap takes a softer beat, taking down the percussion and adding a piano, which sounds like a triumph, an ultimate victory, but a reserved and hopeful one.
I was blown away by this album. After I downloaded it, it was hard to listen to anything else. And as I continue to listen to it, I find more and more complexities and brilliance in the album. I think it is safe to say that I will be listening to it over and over for the foreseeable future. Cause, damn, it is awesome.
You can download the entire album for free off Donald Glover’s website: IAMDONALD.com. Do it. Do it now.