Friday music blogging: Childish Gambino
Donald Glover is a stand-up comedian and a comedy writer (he’s written for Community, 30 Rock, and The Daily Show), but he’s probably best known as Troy Barnes, the genial, goofy friend-of-Abed on the show Community.
Side note here: you can argue whether Community is the funniest show on television right now (my vote would go to Parks & Rec, which is firing on all cylinders), but for my money, Glover as Troy is far-and-away the funniest character. Literally everything he says and does in that role makes me laugh, even when it’s not intended to be funny.
Anyway, Glover is also, as it happens, a rapper. He goes by the nom de rap Childish Gambino, which he chose via the Wu Tang rap name generator online. (For the record, my rap name is Mad Lover, which, sweet.) When I first heard Glover was rapping I groaned, like, I’m sure, everyone else. I expected some kind of jokey comedy-rap novelty kind of thing.
But with a series of mix tapes and his newly released debut, Camp, Glover has surprised everyone. First of all, it turns out he’s a great rapper! Second, he produces all his own beats and it turns out he’s great at that too. And third, the lyrics are not jokey or funny at all — much closer to what I’d guess you’d call emo. Glover is honest, insecure, and confessional about everything from his childhood as a foster kid to his struggles with girls.
I’ll be honest: I’m not a huge fan of the production style that’s popular in hip-hop these days — the big, echo-y, booming beats combined with melodramatic chorales and synths. I can barely stand to listen to the new Kanye/Jay-Z album. But in this case, the lyrics make up for it. Mainstream rap has become such a tedious, numbing cliche, filled with increasingly baroque boasts about money and women and bling.
Glover’s lyrics, by contrast, are smart, wry, vulnerable, occasionally funny … he sounds like a human being. He grapples with what it means to be a black kid who isn’t hood, who doesn’t get the ladies, who’s insecure and broke, who likes books and dresses like a dork. I can’t help but think there must be lots of black kids out there like that who would love to hear themselves represented in the increasingly thuggish rap game.
Regardless, I like it. This song, “That Power,” is the first single, I believe. It’s good on its own but definitely don’t miss the sweet little poem/short story at the end. Not your typical rap track!
Get Grist in your inbox