Let’s begin with a test. How does this GIF make you feel?
And what about this one?
If you’re 95% of the Internet, the first one makes you happy, the kind of happiness that can only be equaled if you’re eating a giant cookie. But the second GIF, oh, that one makes you mad. Just look at Donald Glover, a.k.a. Childish Gambino, there, with his serious (angry?) face on. Which one is it, huh? Are you glad or grave?
Yesterday, Gambino released his second studio album, the aptly titled Because the Internet, as well as an accompanying screenplay that lines up with the record, like watching Oz the Great and Powerful while listening to Dark Side on the Moon. The reviews have been generally positive-ish (65/100 on Metacritic), but the hit jobs have hit hard. Here’s one from Consequence of Sound’s Philip Cosores.
But, for Gambino, there is only emptiness, and isolation, and really poor artistic decisions. We know Gambino can write decently; after all, people seem to like his episodes of 30 Rock. The script that accompanies this album is not half-baked, but it does oscillate between eye-roll inducing cliches and aggravating modern flares like using “smh” in a sentence that isn’t dialogue, or having Rick Ross play The Boy’s father, or even fucking naming a character “The Boy.” And, that’s only the first couple of pages. At the end of Camp, the album ends with this story about The Boy never growing up, remaining the child on the bus forever. Metaphorically. Here, in reality, Glover is acting like he never grew up as well, offering up some of the least mature writing choices imaginable, featuring tricks that only impress the easily impressed. Indeed, if Because the Internet was your introduction to rap music, it would probably be fascinating. So, this reveal, that everything has been in character, doesn’t make the immaturity of the music acceptable. It’s the artistic equivalent of throwing up a brick from the three-point line and goofily claiming, “I meant to miss.” (Via)
And Pitchfork’s infamous 1.6 smackdown of Gambino’s last album, Camp.
I mean, sub-major hip-hop isn’t a post-cred, post-racial utopia by any means, but I can’t think of another time when there were more options for listeners of just about any race or background seeking to identify with rappers on a non-allegorical level. I just have to assume Glover has completely ignored the success of Lil B, Main Attrakionz, Curren$y, Kendrick Lamar, Odd Future, Danny Brown, and especially Das Racist when he meekly moans, “Is there room in the game for a lame that rhymes/ And wears short shorts and tells jokes sometimes?” It’s the perfect summation of Camp: preposterously self-obsessed, but not the least bit self-aware. Tell me that ain’t insecure. (Via)
What connects these reviews, outside of HATE: authenticity, or lack there of, and no self-awareness. Not from the writers, but from, allegedly, Glover. He’s not a rapper; he’s a comedian who raps on the side, no different than Rodney Dangerfield’s Rappin’ Rodney. OK, maybe Glover gets a little more respect than that, but because he became a celebrity as, first, a writer for 30 Rock then a star on Community, not to mention his sketches with the otherwise exceedingly white Derrick Comedy, he’s a poseur, a word that ought to be banished from the English language. It can’t just be that Because the Internet is or isn’t bad (I happen to think it’s OK; it’s a good 45-minute album in a decent 57-minute package); it’s that it’s not real. Also, as Noisey concludes, it’s not cool.
As silly as it sounds, Childish Gambino is not a cool thing to like. It’s easy to hate him before he opens his mouth. Because, come on, right? He wears thick glasses and makes puns. He has a smile that’s better than yours. Even though that Friends line is genuinely pretty funny—if Lil Wayne had said this, we’d all love it, crediting it for being both a clever and complicated line. But it’s not Lil Wayne. It’s Troy from Community. Nothing about his music has ever felt “real,” for the lack of a better term. He’s soft. He’s emo. He’s a dork. And what’s more, every insult thrown at Drake for his TMI-vibes over the past three years can be taken times about 100 in regards to Gambino. (Via)
The Drake comparison is an interesting one. Both he and Gambino are unlikely rappers: they were both actors before breaking into music, and they both go by stage names. (They also both require emotional validation.) But what separates the two, besides Drake being the better rapper and lyricist, is that only of them has the “hipster” label attached to him. There’s a perception out there that Gambino is trying so hard to seem effortlessly cool, as Noisey points out, that it comes across as pandering at best, ironic appropriation at worst. It’s rap music for people who otherwise don’t like rap music, or so the narrative goes, which then infects the general perception of the music itself. That’s when Childish Gambino becomes not a rapper, but someone to either rally for or against.
It’s (ironically) ironic then that one of the reasons why people dislike Gambino is exactly why they love Donald Glover. On Community, he’s an outsider, the jock-turned-skillfully handled “black nerd,” an archetype that didn’t really exist before he came along. That’s tolerated and beloved, though, because Troy’s so damn likable. He craves acceptance in a different way than Gambino: one smiles, the other sadly scowls. But maybe Glover’s not Troy, as so many people want him to be? Maybe he’s always been Gambino, and writing “Werewolf Bar Mitzvah” was just his way in. Problem is, now people just want to hear “Werewolf Bar Mitzvah” again.
(via Getty Image)