Hip-hop artists are constantly preoccupied with respect, with being taken seriously. In the case of Childish Gambino, this drive is even more prominent, thanks to his day job.
Childish Gambino is 27-year-old Donald Glover, currently of NBC’s Community and formerly a 30 Rock writer. While he chose his pseudonym (with the help of a Wu Tang name generator) to distinguish his rap game from his comedy one, his “childish” moniker has the opposite effect: I assumed it was a comedy-rap hybrid. Especially since this is all I had seen of his rapping:
But while Childish Gambino uses his considerable writing skill on behalf of sharp ad-libs and funny punchlines, this isn’t joke rap. With a staccato flow that owes much to Lil’ Wayne and Kanye, his closest comparison is Drake: there’s the TV background, obviously, and he sings his own hooks. The complete package, he also is pretty skilled behind the boards.
After a series of gimmick-based tapes, Gambino released the two-part I Am Just A Rapper tape, which found him rapping over indie tracks a la Chiddy Bang. The talent was evident, but rapping over Yeasayer and The Very Best worked better on paper: it seemed like a ploy to establish indie cred.
Gambino found his voice on last year’s Culdesac tape. His frequent topics, like Drake, are dealing with preternatural fame and wealth, separating real friends from hangers-on, and (of course) girls. While the limited scope of his lyrics gets a little tedious at 15 songs, the varied production and styles redeems the tape.
Like Kanye, his self-awareness is charming. Of his audience, he raps, “Crowd at my shows more mixed than Rashida Jones,” on “Difference.” He opens his new EP with a similar refrain, about his positioning between two separate but converging scenes: “Hard for a Pitchfork, soft for a Roc-a-fella.” “Freaks and Geeks” is the stand-out, with a “Power”-like beat and energetic verses that are brimming with references (“In the back of the bush, like Gavin Rossdale’s drummer”).
What does the future hold for Childish Gambino? The path forged by multi-talented artists like Jamie Foxx and Drake is very real, even if establishing legitimacy in different arenas is difficult. Glover will host the MTVu Woodie Awards on March 16, and tickets are selling fast for his “I Am Donald” tour (his May 8th gig at the Black Cat is already sold-out). Childish Gambino is ready to be taken seriously.