Music Mondays, Case #6 – The Great (Childish) Gambino

Because I didn’t get to go to his concert at BU.

 

It’s an odd thing to blog about Donald Glover, but not about his work for 30 Rock or Troy Barnes in Community. What is weirder is that Childish Gambino is so distant from the characters Glover plays, that he is not only a great musician, but a fantastic alter ego.

Gambino has dealt with a lot of criticism from hip-hop heads, who claim he relies on puns too much, appeals to “white kids,” and doubt his credibility as a musician. Further attacks are a result of his career as a comedic actor and concerns of him making a joke out hip-hop. Yet, it seems the more successful he’s become, the more criticism started emerging from the woodwork. Coincidence?

After finding his pseudonym via a Wu-Tang name generator, Gambino released an independent album during his stint at 30 Rock, beginning a new phase in his career. Titled Sick Boi, the ablum featured a noticeably higher-pitched and more nasally Gambino. He sounded like he was, well…sick.

Sick Boi was shortly followed up with Poindexter, a mixtape that continued Gambino’s pun-filled lyricism. Some songs suggested that the he was struggling with his voice, which seemed to change constantly during some songs.

Gambino then release the I Am Just a Rapper mixtapes, still featuring the pre-“Freaks and Geeks” voice from Gambino. Gambino showed off his ability to rap over popular samples, using Grizzly Bear’s “Two Weeks,” on the mixtape.

Gambino’s third album, Cul De Sac, is when he started becoming the rapper that he is today. It featured significantly more of his own singing and similar production and topics in his songs that his most recent work has. The content of the songs became more personal, causing some people to call his style “emo rap.”

And of course, it set the table for the boastful side of him as well.

Then Gambino turned into the Gambino we know today.

EP came out, including Gambino’s biggest hit at that point in his career in “Freaks and Geeks.” Referencing the defunct cult hit was fitting for the rapper/comedic actor, and drew in what some critics thought of as a “hipster” crowd.

Another major release at this point, was “Break,” in which Gambino rapped over a cover of the beat from the ultra-popular “All of the Lights” by Kanye West and company. The song epitomized Gambino’s style at that point, featuring great puns (“Is it too soon for Japanese girls?/Too tsunami.”), a sample of a popular song, and plenty of Gambino singing.

When Camp came out, it felt like Gambino’s debut album. It drew in a whole new crowd. The album featured Gambino talking mostly about girls (and an “ok we get it” amount of references to his dick), but also discussed racial expectations and stereotypes. But it also divided critics and hip-hop heads, some finding him over the top and trying too hard to be funny.

And while he rapped about credibility in the hip-hop community, some of his songs certainly lacked a certain edge that some fans may expect from the genre.

Gambino’s latest mixtape, Royalty, feels more like an album, and is probably some of his best work. However, the feature-filled effort could suggest two things. If you’re an optimist it means that fellow rappers appreciate his music, but it you’re a pessimist, you think Gambino wanted to show he’s part of the community by bringing on a bunch of big names without it being warranted. I’ll say I’m in the optimist camp on this one.

Some of the features raised eyebrows, but if you can bring out Beck’s rap-singing circa Mellow Gold, then you’re good by me. This mixtape in some sense shows off who Gambino has become, having Tina Fey (30 Rock and the beginning of his career) closing out the album and getting RZA (whose existence is the only reason why Donald Glover got the name Childish Gambino) to join him on Royalty.

Some lyricism also takes shots at people in the hip-hop community, including the gem:

“Put her in the club, all she wanna hear is Waka/Put her in the crib, all she wanna hear is Waka/She jerk when I move like her old boy popped her.”

Where Gambino will take his career next is anyone’s guess. With Community hanging by a thread, his schedule might open up soon. Maybe people will give him the credit he deserves soon.

Or maybe we’ll just have to see even more Gambino in Community

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