A rapper. An actor. A comedian. A writer? It seems that Donald Glover (AKA culty rap breakout Childish Gambino) is a truly multi-talented renaissance man; well, either that, or he’s the victim of some serious career ADHD. In the past few years, despite producing his own stand-up show in New York City, starring on hit NBC show Community and even writing a few of the episodes, Donald has managed to produce two successful albums. In 2011 he released debut LP Camp, and in December of 2013 he dropped his most recent work, Because The Internet. While Childish Gambino hasn’t quite stolen Kanye’s Yeezus crown of thorns with Because The Internet, he’s definitely staked his claim as the next king of hipster rap.
If Because The Internet had one defining characteristic, it would be its symphonious strangeness. While incorporating YouTube-derived sound effects, randomly interspersed classical and jazz instruments, squeaky synths, and pop-culture spackled rhymes, Gambino is somehow able to create incredible songs. Some are melodic, some are anthemic, some are downright creepy, and some are all of the above, but all of them keep your attention. Second track WORLDSTAR switches from a beat-driven tune about guns, drugs, and girls into a medley of saxophones and clashing keys of synths, with off-key chanting omnipresent in the background. Things really start to get great with Telegraph Ave. This song has only a bridge of rap; Gambino’s surprisingly beautiful singing voice guides us through the rest, with lyrics about love and quarter-life crises. The three most universally appealing tunes on the album come in a row: Telegraph Ave, the catchy singalong Sweatpants, and of course, popular single 3005. Gambino stays true to his internet theme too – he smoothly inserts references to Instagram, Twitter, Viber and so forth with a sense of relevance that only a millennial rapper could pull off.
The record is unpretentiously eccentric throughout; who else would have song titles as diverse as Sweatpants, Zealots of Stockholm, and the possible Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy reference (and Macklemore duet) Earth: The Oldest Computer (The Last Night)? He gives shoutouts not to fellow rappers, but to Kurt Vonnegut, Sofia Coppola, Ben Folds, Kurt Cobain, and of all people, Socrates. He uses everything from Pepto Bismol to IKEA to get a rhyme, and it makes his work better for it.
It’s easy to wonder whether Gambino’s recent success as a musician stems solely from his dedicated Community fanbase, and the show’s immense popularity (William Shatner, anyone?), but we here at One on One did a little bit of thinking and we think there’s more to it than that. Gambino is a good rapper, and Because The Internet is a solid sophomore effort, complete with a few truly brilliant songs. We’re not sure if Because The Internet is good enough to warrant Gambino quitting acting – it’s debatable whether or not this will lead him to any VH1 Rap Legend specials, come fifty years in the future. Nevertheless, it’s a strong album from an undeniably talented performer and songwriter – we can’t wait to hear more from him.