Words About Music
Childish Gambino “Because the Internet”
Rapper/actor/producer/writer Donald Glover has been in the limelight lately for a number of reasons. Mostly for his decision to leave the show Community. His mood has also taken something of a downward turn over the past year or so. He seems pretty sad lately and he’s displaying that in strangely artistic ways, be it somewhat cryptic Instagram pictures or his song lyrics themselves. He also seems to be pretty smitten with singer/songwriter Jhené Aiko. All of these factors and more seem to influence the more artistic turn that Gambino’s career has taken recently. Be it his 20-minute short film “Clapping For the Wrong Reasons” or his recent interviews and live performances. Donald is just a different person than he was two years ago when his debut album “Camp” dropped. And these differences make “Because the Internet” a superior album in many ways.
Ever since the track-listing for “Because the Internet” dropped, hip hop fans knew we were about to get something different from Gambino. While he’s known for his mix of punchline-replete braggadocios bars and his R&B-crooning love songs that seem to conflict stylistically, he comes across as much more cohesive on this album when bringing the two styles together. Sure, songs like “Sweatpants” lean more towards his “Bonfire”-type songs and “Shadows” leans more to his “All the Shine”-type songs, but he definitely does a good bit of experimenting on this record. For example, “No Exit” is a horrifying short song about being on some strange drug trip. He sees a spider on his wall, can’t find the moon when he goes outside (the Moon is a definite motif on this album), and utilizes a bit of jumbled pitch-shifted vocals towards the end. “Zealots of Stockholm (Free Information)” meanwhile is a bit more straightforward but goes through three or four different movements. And then you have “Flight of the Navigator” which starts off sounding like an early Animal Collective song. Childish Gambino is all over the place on this record, but not in a way that makes it sound rushed or confusing.
A vital part of this album is the production, which is sometimes lush and darling and other times it leans more towards the slower harsher beats that generally accompany his more straightforward hip hop tracks. Songs like “Worldstar,” “Crawl,” and “Sweatpants” fall under the latter category, with their memorable choruses and one-liners as well as their party beats. Other songs like “Shadows,” “Telegraph Ave. (‘Oakland’ by Lloyd),” and “3005” are softer and more well-known for their incredibly relaxed mood.
“Because the Internet” has taken a couple more listens to grow on me than I would have thought for a Childish Gambino album. Believe it or not, it didn’t immediately click with me like “Yeezus” and “Acid Rap” did. It took some patience, but I did get enough listens in to really feel like I understand what I like and dislike about this record.
Now, obviously a lot of Gambino’s fame comes from the internet, as does a lot of rappers’ fame. In fact, he even got his stage name from the internet (a Wu-Tang name generator). However, I don’t think that really excuses the use of lines like “Trollin, trollin, trollin these niggas/Rick Rollin these niggas, they mad cause they don’t know any better.” He also references… memes… like “Ain’t nobody got time for that” and “It’s a trap!” Really, it does hurt a little bit to hear a grown man refer to fleeting internet jokes that die shortly after they’re born. Thankfully, that sort of thing doesn’t come until the last song, the aptly titled “Life: The Biggest Troll (Andrew Auernheimer),” which is named after the infamous hacker. The rest of the album remains pretty reference-free when it comes to stupid internet jokes. There are a couple dumb lines like “Girl why is you lyin?/Girl why you Mufasa?” but one must come to expect that from Donald at this point.
I think that Childish Gambino’s main problem is that he’s so conflicted with these two different sides of him that it’s affecting his musical output. Are we supposed to think of him as a constantly evolving rapper and producer who experiments with different sounds and methods of storytelling? Or is he the internet jokester he’s been since his humble beginnings? “Because the Internet” would lead us to believe that he’s a little bit of both, but the gap between the two personalities seems to grow with every project he drops. He’s going to have to make a decision soon.
For the most part, I really do enjoy this album. A lot of the songs on here are insanely catchy, for better or for worse. I do wish that Chance the Rapper had a full verse on this album instead of the short and slightly annoying chorus on “The Worst Guys,” and perhaps tone down the internet stuff (even the album title had me a bit worried). Otherwise, if you’re willing to sympathize with the problems of a depressed celebrity who has to buy friends to party with him every weekend then I think you’ll enjoy the full album. Otherwise you may just wanna stick around for some of the more hip hop tracks where Gambino drops more bars. He does a good bit of singing on this album (which isn’t a bad thing; the guy can really sing) but he usually sings about relationship issues and his unsatisfying life as a comedian, artist, and actor. I really hope Gambino continues in the more production-focused direction as he’s great at picking (as well as creating) the different sounds and textures used on here, but I still think his lyricism could use work if he wants to be taken more seriously, which it seems like he does. Overall, this album could use a bit more but I still love it more with each listen.
SCORE – 8.7
FAVORITE TRACKS – Crawl, Worldstar, The Worst Guys, Shadows, Telegraph Ave (“Oakland” by Lloyd), Sweatpants, No Exit, Zealots of Stockholm (Free Information), Urn, Earth: The Oldest Computer (The Last Night), Life: The Biggest Troll (Andrew Auernheimer)