Childish Gambino The evolution of Man

Artwork by Astrid Ana Jansen

2016… sigh. 2016 held the promise of the little baby all of us were excited to raise, but turned hopelessly out to be that dirty-diaper licking little prick that would wake us up at 4 in the morning crying blue murder for no reason. And, in all of 2016’s shitstorm, Donald Glover was the only one who went into the year wearing a condom and a Hazmat suit.

Easy now; perhaps you’ve had a slightly tolerable 2016 in your personal lives, but the global What-The-Fuck-o-meter read epically dire times in the cosmopolitan scheme of things. Donald Glover, on the other hand, nonplussed to the T, did great. He created Atlanta, got casted as a young Lando Calrissian for a Star Wars anthology film, and released his third full-length record, “Awaken, My Love!”.

Donald Glover

The ladies will tell you they’d like a man who settles, preferably with them. They won’t like Donald Glover. The man has evolved and evolved like a Digimon on Lance Armstrong’s prescription, and now has the genius of any final-stage boss-fight of a video game.

Starting out as a writer for Tracy Morgan’s jokes on 30 Rock, Glover went on to become the lovable and gentle dork as Troy Barnes on Community. Talking about Community would be worth another article written, but the highest compliment the show deserves is that… I’ve just never watched a single episode of Community thinking, “Oh, this will be a waste of time”.

That wasn’t enough to propel him into Emmy and Oscar stardom, of course; the wit and performances about him just weren’t materialistic and marketable for the bloodsucking capitalists of showbiz.

Remember The Martian? Remember how Glover single-handedly saved Matt Damon’s tragically lifeless performance on Mars? Remember how he single-handedly added that little bit of fun into the desperate dreariness of the film? Geez.

Remember Magic Mike XXL? Remember him serenading Caroline? Remember wanting to be Caroline? Geez.

Atlanta, though, me oh my. A TV show; a vivid and playful dream poking fun at the whimsical reality it portrays, created by Donald Glover. Admittedly, but not regrettably, I haven’t sat down to analyse every bit of what Atlanta really sheds light on. Rappers trying to break the shackles of struggle by trying to make it in the rap scene, whilst wrestling personal problems… maybe the bigger part of me just wanted to enjoy quality TV, and not worry about “the bigger picture” for once.

Childish Gambino

Before we carry on, I’d like to share that the above clip was the first taste I had of Childish Gambino. Hard not to bop your head and shoulders to Jamie XX’s remix already, but Gambino appeared just in bloody time to deliver that coup de grâce. This is Childish.

Evolved and evolved and evolved.

Childish Gambino, a nom de plume matured for his musical prowess, has gifted us with three full-length studio albums. Camp, his first shot at getting his verses out there, with the reliance to match the restraint. Because the Internet, his second, with added preparation and exuberance of a helpful cavalry that included Chance the Rapper, Jhené Aiko, Miguel, and Azealia Banks. And “Awaken, My Love!”; when Gambino forsook the expectations of bigger and badder rap verses, for something much more luscious and seductive.

And as if he wasn’t putting in enough effort, there was a seven-track EP, Kauai, sandwiched between Because the Internet, and “Awaken, My Love!”.

Stage 1: Quiet boy with a loud voice

Camp didn’t allow us to take Gambino seriously just yet; why would it? A debut full-length album that featured the angry reflections of yet another rapper just wasn’t enough for us to drool over. Heartbeat mirrored a frustrating end of a sex-heavy relationship, whereas Fire Fly was pretty much Gambino’s reflection of his own rags-to-riches tale. All very one-dimensional, and not that we hated it; we were just okay if that was as good as he got to add to his jack-of-all-tradeish resume. Pitchfork weren’t quite impressed with Camp, though, giving it a mere 1.6 that obviously echoed through the Pitchfork reading population 1, meaning we’d all expected Gambino to not only start over, but still strive for mediocrity.

Stage 2: Here comes the cavalry

Add a little bit preparation and pizzazz to Camp, and you’ll get Because the Internet; his sophomore album that had everything a rap record needed; rap verses, singing, other musicians rapping and singing, synths, internet-romance nuances. The addition of Chance and Jhené added the necessary depth and dimensions Gambino previously lacked. I’ll explain.

The Worst Guys radiated with a bit of effortless and infectious fun with friends on a beach, and gave a very promising collab between two then-talented-but-not-elite rappers. A (sole) collab mixtape was confirmed by Chance himself earlier in November.

Pink Toes… man. The more you listen the track, the more you know Gambino and Jhené were God’s idea of Adam and Eve.

Cause I know one day
You could take me away, far away
I know you could pay
All the money you made, there’ll be plenty of sunshine

3005 remains my personal favourite. It’s straightforward; a lyrical buffet stretching from fame and love and the lopsidedness of one over the other, and losing faith in the new-found world around you. But the instrumentation behind the lyrics were masterfully mixed to add the needed impact over some words.

The Grammy nomination for Because the Internet looked like a formality, in all honesty, seeing as he didn’t actually go on to win, but his efforts were duly appreciated and reverberating around the scenes.

Stage 3: Dreaming, but now awake

While other rappers gained followers and praises for focusing on the issues of a young famous black man, Gambino looked all into the romantics of it, releasing each single and each record like memoirs of his romantic escapades and escapes. After Because the Internet where Bino was “found out”, came STN MTN / Kauai, a double-EP that first featured dreamy representations of existing music and ideas that set up the perfect preamble of the second half of the double EP, Kauai.

Gambino, you could tell, was just enjoying himself at this point. The double EP arguably reflected the manufacturing of his alter-ego, laying and drawing that line between Donald Glover and Childish Gambino.

I want to talk about Sober for a bit, if I may. I first heard the single when I caught the music video in a drunken stupor (the irony writes itself) on a friend’s couch in Gold Coast, Australia. As entertaining and comical as the music video played out to be, Bino being Bino went for that romantic quietus that escaped many.

Sitting all alone in the corner, a mile away from being sober after the defeat of another relationship, in comes a dame into his life, along with the bag of promise and hope that she held in her eyes. Bino gets up, gets silly, gets dancing, gets singing, all to make an impression. He fails at first, but after much persistence, insistence, and determination, the pretty lady obliges. She joins Bino for a jiggle, but her food order arrives just in time for her to leave Bino all on his own again. The song fades away, the humdrum of another failed attempt at any form of a relationship follows Bino back to his seat he started from, going back to waiting for the next one to enter the doors.

Stage 4: Man like Bino

Compare the above clip to Bino’s live performance of 3005. I sat on my armchair watching this after it was shared on Twitter; and after the clip ended, I watched it again. And again. And then one more time just to be sure. Just to be sure this was real.

My biggest fear, my only fear with the new record was that there would be difficulties replicating live on stage. How low, how high, how deep, how fly… Bino nailed it all, and all whilst shirtless and fronting a full band.

“Awaken, My Love!” was dropped, and to be honest, I could’ve done with one rap verse from Bino. Just the one. At least the one. But nope; lush and plush, Bino sang and yelped and squawked and swayed and took our breaths away. Redbone, the second single off the record, had everything you’d need in a track to make love to. You’ve thought about it, I’ve thought about it, people I’m sure have also thought it and done it.

It’s strange because of all the fuego in his rap verses from CampBecause the Internet, and even his freestyle appearances on radio stations, you would’ve forgiven Bino for being that one-trick pony when it came to music. But there was a warning sign, a sign of things to come:

If you stare really closely, you’ll realise the man in there looks eerily like Childish Gambino.

Riot, a non-single from “Awaken, My Love!”, made me very restless. It started off with a cacophonous mess of funk and soul and groove and shoulder bops, but before the jig got too old, Bino showed up with the most arousing most flustering vocals to light the proverbial stage on fire.

Then comes the question; is there anything this man can’t do? Seriously. Maybe he can’t parallel park. Or he’s allergic to macadamia nuts. OR he could only tell the time off a digital clock. Seriously.

In an interview with Noisey, Bino shared an anecdote:

“We were in the airport and I was waiting in line at the ATM, and there was a guy in front of me getting money. I came up and he got nervous, so I went to the side and waited for him to finish. I said to my group of friends, ‘I don’t think white people know how much effort in my day is put into making them feel comfortable.’ In general, people don’t know how much of my time is dedicated to making them feel comfortable. Maybe it has to do with being older, but I just didn’t want to do it anymore. I don’t want to make people comfortable all the time. Plus, we just feel like we’re going to die soon.”

This is a man who manages to find profoundness in this world of disarray; not necessarily an award-winning trait to have, but how many of us really do? So while Bino moulds out of the dissolutions of music to break his way into performance art, best to heed his advice from Redbone; stay woke.

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