“Put your phones down. This is not a concert; this is an experience. We’re going to church.”
This is what Donald Glover — also known as Childish Gambino for one last night, at least — told the sellout crowd at The Forum in Los Angeles Sunday night. It was the beginning of his final two showa as Childish Gambino, as well as the conclusion of his most recent tour. It was one of those moments when stars aligned, when the world slowed down. In one of his final acts as Childish Gambino, Donald Glover spoke the absolute truth; it was an experience. It was spiritual.
From the beginning, Childish Gambino was a weird idea — but it was also maybe a necessary one. Back when Glover started out as punchline-heavy, Lil Wayne-influence rapper, it was probably important to him to separate the idea of him as an actor on Community from the idea of him as the rapper who made Camp. There had been rappers who’d made the transition to acting, like Will Smith and Ice Cube, and actors who’d made the transition to rap, like Mos Def and Drake, but to the best of my knowledge, there hadn’t been anyone who split time evenly between the two the way Donald Glover did.
Using Childish Gambino as a buffer likely allowed him to pursue film and television roles that he wouldn’t have been able to with mixtapes full of dick jokes and slightly cringe-y bars about dating Asian girls. The internet hadn’t quite achieved its 2015 levels of attack-dog wokeness, but production companies were still pretty brand conscious and wary of problematic characters, and hip-hop, then as now, was still considered problematic by the mostly old white men in charge of these businesses.
Of course, Childish Gambino also gave rap fans an avatar to root for; as much as Drake’s early fame as a cast member on Canadian teen soap Degrassi: The Next Generation gave him a launching pad for his career, it’s given skeptics one of their prime tools to tear him down as well. As Donald Glover’s profile rose, so did Childish Gambino’s, but separately; his half-serious campaign to appear as Spider-Man in a Sony-produced reboot of the film franchise didn’t exactly score him a spot on the XXL Freshman cover, while his turn on Girls likely had little effect on the success of Because The Internet.