Donald Glover has his fingers in a lot of pies. He began his career working as a writer for NBC’s hit comedy series 30 Rock, before landing the role of Troy Barnes in another NBC show Community. If that wasn’t enough he’s also a stand-up comic and most recently he’s been cutting his teeth as a hip-hop MC and producer. Working under the Childish Gambino alias, Glover’s second album, Because The Internet, is his most ambitious creation to date. As well as an hour long, 20 track album, there is also an accompanying 75 page screenplay and a half hour film that was released in the run up to its release.
The problem with all of this is that it’s sometimes hard to take Childish Gambino seriously as an MC when he’s already so ingrained in the media world. His voice is so distinctive that it’s often difficult to remove any associations with his Barnes character and the first couple of tracks make you wonder how much of Glover’s personality went into that character in the first place. It’s almost possible to imagine Glover recording the vocal lines as he’s sitting on a couch next to his co-star Danny Pudi.
That said Glover’s music has come on immensely since his debut album Camp. Setting the lyrical content aside, Glover spits his rhymes with impressive fluidity, rhythmically setting his syllables against the trap beats in a style more akin to Danny Brown than Kanye or any of the artists that heavily influenced his style before. Where this album really stands out though is in its musical production and half way through ‘Worldstar’ the whole mood of the song shifts, giving way to reverb drenched sax improvisation and effects laden backing vocals that chant the track’s title while Glover hums along.
Thankfully this marks a shift in focus for the album and as the production improves on tracks like ‘3005’ and ‘The Worst Guys’, Glover’s raps seem to sit better in the overall mix. On the latter he is also joined by friend and frequent collaborator Chance the Rapper, hands down one of 2013’s most exciting hip-hop discoveries. Where Glover really shines though is as a vocalist, best showcased on the 2nd and 4th acts of the album (it’s divided to correspond with the screenplay). Here Glover’s vocals against the textured layers of synths and beats are reminiscent of Frank Ocean’s work on Channel Orange. ‘Telegraph Ave. (‘Oakland’ by Lloyd)’, ‘Urn’ and ‘Pink Toes’ are the standout tracks and this is where it really feels like Glover is wearing his heart on his sleeve. When singing Childish Gambino becomes a different entity entirely, trading his pseudo-rap lyrics with real R&B depth and emotion, something that he seems far more comfortable with. Not perfect by any means but a positive sign of things to come.