Donald Glover is a busy man. Under his birth name he has written for 30 Rock, had a cameo in The Muppets movie and plays lovable jock, Troy in the (hilarious) sitcom Community. And let’s not forget his rapping alter ego, Childish Gambino.
We’re talking geek-core rap witty enough to impress the harshest of critics. He’s so undeniably hipster that he’s virtually crashed tumblr’s servers.
Glover adopted the name Childish Gambino after taking a Wu-Tang Clan name quiz on the internet. It is no surprise that his lyrics are meme-tastic. They are jammed with literary references, including a rather colourful mention of E.E. Cummings. Ahem, the innuendo writes itself.
There is a real attitude and intelligence behind his music. It isn't safe for work, but it is fun.
He addresses his critics as hip-hop musicians often do, but he does it in a smart and funny way. His music is cockily confident in confronting his rivals: “You started rapping when you wasn’t good at basketball, I started rapping because I needed Adderall.”
Gambino’s lyrics contain sexual references that could make even the most open-minded listener wince. They are, at times, bordering on misogynistic. It is hard to align these attitudes with the sweet-faced nerd who has worked with Tina Fey. Could it be that Donald Glover doesn’t believe the things that his alter ego says? Is this swaggering machismo an attempt to shake off the vestiges of his cutesy character in NBC’s Community?
There is an inconsistency to his work that becomes apparent when digging a little deeper into his personality. His interviews and stand-up indicate that he takes his role as an actor to heart – he seems to interchange between his two different personas rather than being either the nice guy or the big bad misogynist.
It is clear that Gambino has changed his style, and with that his lyrics. He has moved on from the casual, borderline nerd-core sounds in his older recordings, to a more eclectic and branched style including more pop-oriented songs and some low-key gangster-inspired rap. These recordings are where listeners will start to detect a hint of disrespect towards women.
As Gambino’s popularity has risen and he has moved towards the mainstream, it appears that he has had to increasingly rely on a tried-and-tested hip-hop formula. It is a formula that, sadly, relies on making derogatory remarks about women. In other words, don’t hate the player, hate the game.
As Gambino said himself, in an interview with The Guardian, rap needed to change. It had become thuggish…until Kanye, who essentially wears a handbag and glasses. Now, he’s trying to change things like Kanye did.
"For a long time music was black or white, but now there's people like Tyler the Creator making a huge impact. Like me, he's a middle-class black kid that dressed like a member of Good Charlotte and got called a faggot. I got jumped once simply for having a skateboard. We need to change the norms. I can't wait till there's an Asian rock group, and kids can't tell the difference anymore."
Most of his albums are available to download for free on his website, which is a refreshing display of openness in today’s often paranoid and money-hungry music industry.
It is hard to know where Childish Gambino starts and where Donald Glover ends. He plays sweet and nice characters on TV, but he might not be sweet and nice “in real life”. He writes some nasty lyrics, but he might not believe every wise-ass word he writes. It’s all about putting on a show, right?
And he definitely does that.
Images via Loxy's Flickr for BitchBuzz