Because the Internet: In Defense of Childish Gambino

7 Jan

A few weeks ago, Gawker featured an essay by Kyla Marshell as part of their ongoing “True Stories” series published every Saturday morning.  Ms. Marshell’s choice of topic was glaringly irrelevant, ill-researched, and all-around unnecessary.  With the anticipation of the release of Because the Internet, the third album by actor-writer-rapper Childish Gambino, a.k.a. Donald Glover, Ms. Marshell found it an appropriate time to attack the character of Glover, calling him a “sad black boy”.

The majority of her critique of Glover is admittedly ill-informed.  Marshell notes that hip-hop is not something she knows too much about:

I don’t know much about rap, so I’m not sure who the reigning emperor of pussy and bitches (what’s the difference?) is, but whoever claims the throne, they don’t need any more subjects. Which is funny, because he should make Donald their jester.

Marshell goes on to say that she saw Glover’s picture and thought he was cute, and that’s how she eventually ended up at one of his shows.  Clearly this is a poor measurement of a rapper’s worth. Then, Ms. Marshell takes a real jab at Glover:

Donald is just so awkward, so uncomfortable in his own skin. In addition to his posture problems and unwillingness to blink is the fact that he’s so caught up on his childhood. Childish Gambino could be fudged into simpler terms to mean Babyish Baby, and that’s apt. Donald’s childhood, I glean, was very similar to mine: an ethnically black child who grew up culturally white because of the surrounding school system and neighborhood. The difference between him and me, however, is that I found something else to say besides Ow.

This seemingly endless personal attack on Glover does nothing to substantiate any legitimate claims about his music.  Instead, the focus simply becomes how “awkward” and uncomfortable” Glover appears onstage.

I am well-aware of my minimal connection to Glover, but I somehow find the need to defend him and his work.  I first saw Donald Glover live onstage in a Hammerkatz sketch performance at NYU in 2006.  I was a freshman, and he was either a senior or just graduated, and already employed by 30 Rock.  I’ve always had aspirations in comedy, which I am currently pursuing, and I was thoroughly impressed to see someone who was making a similar dream and goals a reality for himself.  To young aspiring writers, especially those in comedy, Donald Glover is a model of perseverance and hard work and where it takes you when it pays off.  Not to mention that he is one of the most gifted people around today.  A lot of people try comedy, try to write, and try to act.  And many of them fail.  the fact that Glover does all of those things professionally and on a high level of success is something to admire.

Marshell’s observation that Glover’s stage performance overflowed with nervousness and tension is nearly irrelevant.  Given that Donald Glover is a seasoned performer, primarily in sketch and improv, perhaps it is natural for him to show tension in his nascent music career.  Because the Internet is a diary of contemporary disposable culture, wrapped in pretty rhymes and inverted wordplay.  This album is the birth of a truly great rap artist, and displays much more maturity than the previous Gambino effort, Camp.  Perhaps Glover is nervous onstage for a reason; not everyone finds their way in every art form the first time.  The progression of his lyricism speaks volumes about how seriously Glover is taking his work.

Gambino’s new album is a nonstop confessional of a fast come-up and the tangled mess of love and loss that typically makes up the experience of someone in their mid to late 20’s.  “Telegraph Ave. (“Oakland” by Lloyd)” is probably my favorite track on the album.  Gambino moves between singing and rapping a la Drake, but with what feels like a more genuine sense of depth.  Gambino is a more nuanced version of Drake, less about the platinum on his wrist, and more about the feelings he gets from his big come up.  There are flourishes of humor throughout the album, and it feels as though Gambino is purposefully twisting around some of the tropes of rap and making them all his own and inherently intellectual.

On “Sweatpants,” Gambino chants “don’t be mad cause I’m doing me better than you doing you,” reminding his haters that his grind is all about him, even if he is trying to be ironic.  Gambino also displays some fun wordplay on this track: “I’ve got a penthouse on both coasts, pH balance;” “I got more tail than that PetCo, you faker than some Sweet ‘N Low”.

On the final track, the most appropriately named “Life: The Biggest Troll,”  Glover makes the most important observation of the album: “Because the internet, mistakes are forever”.  This is essentially the new motto of the millenial generation.  In an age where everything is tweeted, blogged, Instagrammed, and Facebooked to death, our past remains in this odd little capsule, and anything we say can be used against us, especially the dumb things we say. Perhaps Kyla Marshell did not get this memo.

Because the Internet: 8.5/10

2 Responses to “Because the Internet: In Defense of Childish Gambino”

  1. jhora sangha January 8, 2014 at 8:24 AM #

    I haven’t see a rapper use the internet like this since Kanye’s good friday’s project

    • destiny August 16, 2014 at 11:32 PM #

      Since Kayla DID go see Childish Gambino live she is definitely entitled to her opinion. An ‘artists’ live performance is just as, if not more, important than their studio presentations and I’m pretty sure her summations of Gambino being awkward and clearly affected by his childhood have just as much to do with his music as his image.

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