WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because a guy who was all about funny business took rap as a joke, but now he’s winning big with a stellar career in hip-hop. Drake and Macklemore better watch their backs.
By Datwon Thomas
No, Donald Glover, aka Childish Gambino, is not the son of Lethal Weapon actor Danny Glover. They’re not even related. Yes, he is no longer on the NBC hit comedy Community, having left the show a few weeks ago. No, even though they had a glorious send-off for his cool and quirky “Troy” character, he didn’t just leave the show to become a rapper full time. Proof? Appearing on the revamped and reinvigorated Arsenio Hall Show recently, he explained the rumor: “I don’t consider myself a rapper. I can rap, but I want to do a bunch of stuff. They thought I was leaving Community to be a rapper.… I think that’s kind of dumb. Like … who wants to be … rappers don’t want to be rappers.”
The rapper/actor/writer/stand-up comedian Glover has a point: Rappers don’t even want to be rappers. The funny thing is, that’s what all the really good rappers say. See, Glover — an NYU Tisch School of the Arts dramatic-writing grad — is oblivious to the fact that, at 30, he’s amassed the resumé of a seasoned 50-year-old, starting with working for Tina Fey as one of her favorite writers for 30 Rock. He left that hot career spot, as well. What’s even crazier, Glover doesn’t seem to realize he’s four solid mixtape-ish albums deep into quality rap projects as Childish Gambino (an alias created by the Wu-Tang Name Generator website). His latest, 2013’s Because the Internet, is a cosmic mixture of his native Atlanta soulful melodies and highbrow smart rap quips, laced with passive-aggressive insecure musings and smooth blended new school hybrid singer/spitter flow. Got all that? Good, because Glover doesn’t.
While he recognizes his late-blooming rhyme-writing skills, he consistently downplays his burgeoning super status. Like in 2012, with a booted-up broken foot at the sweltering music festival Coachella, Glover attacked the throngs of fans with no fear. He blasted off song after song while the mainly Caucasian crowd sang every word, watching him bounce on his injured foot with no problem. “I just didn’t want to mess up,” he told me months later in a crowded Brooklyn Nets Barclay Center suite. “I just wanted the people to enjoy themselves.”
The pressure of performance has started to sow cracks in Glover’s mental frame.
They did, but the pressure of performance has started to sow cracks in Glover’s mental frame. He took a moment to Instagram random thoughts of doubt, referencing suicidal themes and the dire need to please others. The words scribbled on hotel notepaper spoke volumes to his physical appearance, which evolved into a cool, slightly dingy, hobo style. His inches-high afro grew wildly untamed. He also became detached in interviews and was seen in the same tan suede overcoat, white T-shirt and khakis for weeks. His body odor matched the image of neglect. How do I know? I’ve spoken to him in person recently — once at Vibe’s NYC office and two months later at San Francisco International Airport — and trust me, he was committed to the role.
In spite of the transformation, what didn’t change was his focus on showcasing the astounding brilliance of Because the Internet on various platforms, like Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel Live and the aforementioned Arsenio. He performed different tracks for each show, but his appearance with Arsenio best captured Glover’s state of mind. After a funny and revealing couch interview with the talk-show host, Glover preceded to sing and rap with his legs folded yogi style … from the couch. Intimate, and a bit awkward, but then the balmy cool of the standout track “Shadows” floats and grabs your personal rhythm-section space, and Glover glides to the stage with his guitar man in tow and joins up with the band. It was a Prince and the Revolution–type mystic move that proved again that Glover is a rapper with the “it” factor.