Already a big fan of Donald Glover as Troy on the once-perfect, now sadly flailing meta-sitcom Community, I came to his music during the dizzy heights of Adele-mania circa February 2011, through his feature on the Jamie xx remix of ‘Rolling in the Deep’. That winter had been a pretty bleak time for me. Fleeing a toxic living situation, I’d had to forfeit a ridiculous amount of money and only narrowly avoided a terminal case of Yellow Wallpaper Fever. In the early hours in my parents’ spare room, writing terrible undergrad essays and living off pre-packaged sandwiches as winter turned into spring, the Childish Gambino EP played on an infinite loop through my earbuds. I have worked all winter, I will not fail summer. I’ll always remember that stressful morning in April moving into my new sublet, paying the men with ven, closing the door, picking my way through the bags and boxes and perching on the edge of the bed, listening to Culdesac all the way through for the first time. That album got me through. When I moved into student accommodation as a member of pastoral staff that September, the fact Donald Glover was an RA in college gave my still-shaky mind some irrational reassurance that I was making the right decision. In January 2012 I parted with fifty quid on eBay and made the Megabus pilgrimage down to London for the first of his two nights at the City Arts and Music Project’s temporary space in Shoreditch. That gig was probably the closest I’ve ever come to religious fervour.
‘I wanna do the best I can, but sometimes I’m weird and insecure and awkward about stuff. Everyone’s so afraid of being misunderstood, but it’s going to happen.’
The Leona Lewis era lost me a little, but the Royalty mixtape was strong, and I’m getting quite excited about Because the Internet, due out in just a few weeks. Glover’s recent conversation with legendary, recently reinstated talk-show host Arsenio Hall is just one in a trail of amazing recent promotional interviews, where a chilled Glover talks about reconciling his ambition and his insecurity, the eternal pursuit of personal improvement, being a multi-medium artist in the digital age, and… the apparent impending threat of 3D printer guns. I really like what Glover has to say about the importance of caring what others think and feel, because I think it marks a real shift in his approach to artmaking and being a cultural contender. This is a useful compendium of reasons Glover’s work has been problematic in the past, but I’ve always maintained he has a long way to go, and is on a learning path. I loved that in Camp he started to engage critically with issues of race, but his sustained misogyny and Orientalism was disappointing. In a sadly un-refindable interview from last year, he said that his biggest regret about Camp was how he referred to women. But though Royalty was less overtly abrasive, to my knowledge he’s never voiced any self-reevaluation in his creative output. The one thing I’m really hoping for from Because the Internet then is evidence of the shift in Glover’s worldview in this regard — not because he owes it to anyone, but because it would signal something very exciting in his evolution as an artist. Not to detract from his feelings of disenfranchisement — it’s the main reason I identified so strongly with his music — but it seems that Glover is finally growing out of “hater culture”, where any criticism or lack of support is brushed off as haterism. By which is seemingly meant: some mystical concoction of small-mindedness, artlessness, bitterness, and trolling. Haters gonna hate, as the saying goes: they don’t get it, they can’t handle it, they couldn’t do it, it’s not about you, it’s about them. This strength of self-belief is an important step in the actualisation of any artist — a creative incubation period, drowning out the melee of voices in order to find your own. But to ignore critical commentary because it isn’t what you want to hear, because it challenges your idea of who you are, is not only hugely irresponsible, but completely self-stunting. I feel like Donald Glover is one of the most important and inspiring artists out there right now, because not only does he want to communicate his experiences, to ‘make the spectator see the world [his] way not [theirs]’, but as he says to Hall, he wants to keep learning, keep growing. Moving on is scary, but it doesn’t make sense to stay here.
Despite a lot of internet hours racked up on Wikipedia and Rap Genius, I don’t pretend to be any kind of authority on hip-hop. The opening gambit of the infamous 1.6 Pitchfork review — ‘If you only buy one hip-hop album this year, I’m guessing it’ll be Camp.’ — was a solid burn. But I’m learning, and I’m learning a lot through Childish. I love the unique medium of rap, how the best artists pack about ten different themes into each track, shifting between tenses and perspectives and rhythms, tying everything together in their flow; through callbacks. In particular lately I’ve been watching a lot of live radio freestyles. I think it’s so interesting to see the evolution of a rapper’s “bag of tricks” — the tropes and topics they fall back upon when put on the spot, when their mind is grasping for good ideas. I was recently lucky enough to attend the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra’s performance of Vaughan Williams’ 8th Symphony, conducted by Andrew Manze at the City Halls in Glasgow. Operating similarly “off the dome”, Manze talked the audience through a brief biography of the composer and discussed his ideas about the inspiration for and construction of the symphony, inviting the orchestra to illustrate. Finally, the symphony was played in full. It was fantastic. It gave me ‘nam flashbacks to a recent job interview that didn’t go so well. I had to give a presentation, and though off-the-cuff spiels have always been one of my strongest suits in uni seminars and previous jobs, I over-prepared with a fully-drafted speech, baulked under the gaze of a roomful of strangers, and struggled to tear my eyes from the page. On the way home, I tripped and fell flat on my face in the street, badly staving my ankle. It was a huge, horrible learning experience of a day. That moment where all semblance of control is lost and latent creativity takes over scares the bejesus out of me — but I’m working on it. I watch people with ability to harness that animal, to ride that wave, with a kind of gruesome admiration. I think Childish Gambino is at his best and most exciting when freestyling, whether in an interview or ad-libbing a scene or with his music. This clip is from his recent appearance on Sway in the Morning, rapping (and chatting) over Drake and Jay Z’s amazing ‘Pound Cake’:
Every night I tour that, moment. But we don’t take pictures, when you’re rich you just see it again. The only thing they really worry about is me and the pen. Wrote some shit on Instagram, I’m just being honest. They tried to give your boy pills like I’m being violent. They tried to give your boy pills just to keep him silent. Keep telling people the truth, you could be iconic. Tried to give your boy pills like ‘you’re scaring us’.
Try to stay inside I don’t really like appearances, I try to stay inside but they still got something to say. Are you still on the show, are you dating Jhené?
It’s deeper than that.
Calico inside the handbag, I’m keeping the cat. Got some n*s in reserve like I’m deep in Iraq. And I’m deepening rap, and it’s deeper than that.
This is deeper than rap.