Because the Internet
Dec 23, 2013 Web Exclusive
I confess, earlier this year I was a little worried about Donald Glover, the uber-talent behind Childish Gambino. In less than five years, Glover has gone from wunderkind television writer, to an up-and-coming stand-up comedian, to a lead role on a hip sitcom, and now a defiant hip-hop artist. After announcing he was quitting his gig on NBC's Community, Glover posted a series of handwritten confessions about his fears as a performer, about letting people down (specifically Community showrunner Dan Harmon), and about his deeply personal insecurities. He seemed like an artist on the verge of a breakdown, and a superficial listen to Because the Internet reinforces those concerns.
Don't get me wrong, Because the Internet is a big step for Gambino. It's sophisticated. Glover has seamlessly improved on his rhythm and styling, leaving behind the punch-lines but keeping his keen knowledge of pop culture firmly planted throughout. There are clever references to everything from Kurt Vonnegut to Spider-Man, a play on the Twitter campaign to cast Glover as the titular character in The Amazing Spider-Man. Because the Internet is darker and more rich than his 2011 debut Camp, and proves Gambino is capable of elevating his career to that of a serious hip-hop artist.
But it turns out Because the Internet is so much more than that. After the album leaked, Gambino's website posted a full-length screenplay meant to be read parallel to Because the Internet. A prologue in the form of a bizarre and aimless short film was posted on YouTube and establishes Glover as a fictionalized version of himself, confronting isolation in a crowd and his suppressed emotions. Now that the extent of his artistic vision is more apparent, it calls into question everything Glover has done over the last few months. Where does the album end and real life begin? Is Because the Internet an elaborate performance piece, a reflection of his real-life uncertainties about fame and success, or both?
No matter what, Because the Internet is ambitious and daring. The surrounding flutter of puzzle pieces adds depth, but the record still stands on its own as a bold statement on modern life and the cold distance technology places between human relationships. I'm less worried about Childish Gambino these days, but no less interested. (www.childishgambino.com)
Author rating: 7.5/10
Average reader rating: 9/10