because the internet (to be released December 10, 2013)
By now, I shouldn’t have to convince you that “the guy from Community” is a dope rapper. But for the skeptics who need convincing, consider this – hip hop needs Childish Gambino right now.
Rap needs a voice that speaks directly to hip-hop’s culture. I’m talking the true culture, not the fantasy world of models and molly that BET and radio force down our throats. The self-conscious kid who lives life through his online persona can’t relate to that.
But that kid can relate to Donald Glover.
With Kanye West going totally off the rails and Lupe Fiasco is drowning in a sea of self-righteousness, Donnie G has assumed the role of realest rapper alive. His stories are relatable and his struggles are palatable.
And that makes because the internet his finest work.
“That camp was a million years ago/sing me a different song,” he spits on “Life: The Biggest Troll.” Heed those words – because the internet is far removed from Gambino’s 2011 debut Camp. That album’s soulfulness and playful nature have been replaced with a dark, eclectic mood. At first it’s a bit jarring, but I’m sure that’s by design.
Everything here, from the song structure to the moody interludes that are sprinkled throughout the set, is atypical of most rap. Take "WORLDSTAR" for instance, which starts out as as the usual rap track before Gambino awkwardly switches his flow, then ending the song with a smooth sax outro. The songs, like the Interent itself, are ever-evolving.
Speaking of evolution, Gambino showcases his singing voice more than ever before and does an impressive job. "Telegraph Ave (Oakland by Lloyd)" begins with Donnie G singing along to a Lloyd song before totally taking the reigns himself. The drug-laced tales of "Pink Toes" float along the midtempo track nicely, accented by some decent high notes. And "Flight of the Navigator" is a solemn, achy ballad that's straight out of Frank Ocean's playbook. Gambino ponders life and death with a surprising amount of sincerity. And fear too.
But don't worry, this album isn't all ballads. Gambino's lyricism is still the album's biggest draw. He deftly trades bars with Chance the Rapper on "The Worst Guys" and fires off punchlines like a semi-auto on "Sweatpants" ("I got a penthouse on both coasts, pH balance"; "Got a glass house in the Palisades, that a-k-a/White hood, white hood, OKay-Kay-Kay).
"Life: The Biggest Troll" might be his most revealing track ever. Switching between braggadocios rap and emo poetry, Gambino wavers between the falsehoods of fame and the isolation we all face in real life.
Then the song abruptly stops mid-track. He's trolling us all.
because the internet's heavy concepts and unconventional structuring likely will turn off many fans – even fans who were enthralled by Gambino's earlier releases. Sometimes it feels like one big psychology lesson, one that's as unstable as the pulsating album cover gif. It'll take a couple of listens to piece together the concepts.
Like the Internet itself, because the internet is as entertaining as it is confusing – and a bit disturbing too. It doesn't fit neatly into a pre-packaged box. It's as complex as its creator and the fans who listen to his music.
It's a multifaceted album for a multifaceted generation.
It's what makes Childish Gambino hip-hop's best spokesman.
Best tracks: "Sweatpants," "Life: The Biggest Troll," "Telegraph Ave (Oakland by Lloyd)"
4 stars out of 5