From about 2006 to 2014 my favorite channel was Comedy Central(For those of you who don’t know, besides being a huge superhero and music nerd, I also love comedy). My TV (for the small window of time that I actually had a TV in my room) would flip between Comedy Central, Cartoon Network, and Nickelodeon. In high school whenever I got home from school I’d go straight to the living room and flip on Comedy Central to watch reruns of Futurama or the previous day’s episode of The Daily Show. As a kid the reason I loved summer vacation so much wasn’t because I was free from assigned reading and accursed math with letters in it, but because I could watch the 30 min stand up specials that would air on CC at 10 am.
Sometime in the summer of 2011, I was watching Comedy Central and a 30 min stand up came on. It was a young looking black comedian who I had never heard of before named Donald Glover, and from the first minute to the last I was laughing uncontrollably. Not only were his insights on elementary school kids losing their minds during fire drills hilariously accurate, but some of his jokes about being a black nerd struck a cord with me as I could definitely relate. This is where you’re expecting me to tell you that I was so moved by his comedic performance that I went and googled him to see what else he had done and as a result of the google found out about his music. WELL YOU’RE WRONG.
Sorry dear reader, but I must admit that after I was wowed by that 30 minute set I sort of forgot about Mr. Glover. Until a couple months later when my older cousin moved in with my family. I didn’t know how to feel about this at first because it was basically like having a stranger move in; he’s a good ten years older than me so we didn’t grow up together or anything. Despite that fact we actually hit it off and became kind of close. This was mostly because we had a similar taste in music. Both of us were young black men who didn’t just listen to what black people were “supposed” to listen to. We both liked Paramore and Nirvana and his musical library was much more extensive than mine(At the time). Because of this we often would have conversations about new artists that we liked and that the other should check out(He put me on to Iggy Azalea way before Fancy came out. which means by the time it did come out we had realized that she was godawful). We were having one such conversation one night when he asked me if I had ever heard of Donald Glover. immediately remembered that great 30 min set and said “Yeah I just saw him do stand up a while ago, dude is hilarious”
“You know he raps too?”
Ellington(How cool is it that he’s named after Duke Ellington?) proceeded to tell me to look up the song Freaks and Geeks, so I went upstairs and I did. The moment I heard the line “E.E. Cummin on her face now that’s poetry in motion” I became a changed man. Never before had I heard so many punchlines in a song, and on top of that no rapper I had previously listened to had ever mentioned a freaking poet in their songs. After having my mind blown away by one song I went and looked up every Childish Gambino song that I could find. I listened to the EP that had just dropped at the time.
Then I went backwards through Culdesac and the I AM JUST A RAPPER tapes, Poindexter, and Sick Boi. And when his debut album, Camp, came out that November I picked it up as soon as I could and would play nothing else in my car for months. After listening through all of these I wasn’t content just knowing about his music. I went back into his YouTube days with Derrick Comedy and started watching 30 Rock and Community because he was involved in those shows. I was insanely hype when his comedy special Weirdo came out, and I have every episode of his new show Atlanta on my PS3. Basically I’m a huge Donglover fan.
So what makes you like his music?
I will tell you audience. Initially I was simply in awe of the punchlines. You could tell that Gambino writes jokes as well of bars simply because with every verse you’d chuckle a bit. But he wasn’t making joke raps, he was just crafting his rhymes in a way that hadn’t been done before and sometimes that happened to be funny. Some of my favorites from his earlier works are “Yes I’m drinking whiskey/Baby I am gone tonight/ NBC is not the only thing I’m coming on tonight” “They didn’t know he had it in him/Couldn’t see me as Spider-Man, but now I’m spittin Venom” “I’m sick like a hospital whether you’re in pain or not/ I’m crazy like a swastika inside of a bagel shop” Another thing about his punchlines that I loved were that there was some intelligence to them. Like the only way that bagel line(bagel bar?) is impressive to you is if you know that bagels are a traditional Jewish food. Thus seeing a swastika inside of a bagel shop would indeed be crazy.
Aside from his wordplay, another major draw for me was the fact that he was rapping about things that I could actually relate to. He wasn’t talking about all the money he had or fucking somebody else’s girlfriend(although he maybe mentioned that a couple of times) he wasn’t even talking about growing up in the hood. Instead he was talking about being different from everybody else. And not in the 2 Chainz braggadocios way, but struggling with that fact. He was talking about how he had so much ambition and wanted to do so many things, and how he couldn’t stand the idea of doing one thing for too long. He talked about being black and a nerd and how for some reason people acted like the two were mutually exclusive. Whenever I listened to Childish Gambino I didn’t feel like I was listening to someone who I related to or had similar experiences to. I felt like I was listening to myself.
I think the biggest reason I latched on the Childish Gambino’s music is because it was the first time I had heard a rapper deal with their emotions. I don’t mean being distraught over a relationship that didn’t work out (although there was some of that), I mean emotions that had previously been sort of taboo to admit to feeling(within the realm of rap music). Listening to Gambino (mostly Culdesac) I heard him struggle with anxiety, doubt, depression, and obsess a little over his mortality. These were all emotions that I felt and feel heavily on an almost daily basis. Some more than others. I remember having this weird idea that I wasn’t going to live to see thirty and feeling like I couldn’t tell anyone because they would label me a danger to myself, and then hearing Gambino express a similar worry on a track and feeling a little better about it. Instead of being obsessed with my expiration I became focused and determined to leave a legacy. Mostly because that’s how CG had resolved to deal with it. Because Childish talked about his deepest darkest fears on wax, I became more okay with not only having these feelings, but expressing them and sharing them with others instead of keeping them bottled up.
All of these things plus the fact that he’s successful in pursuing his dreams and passions make Donald Glover someone I look up to and whose path I intend to follow in my own way. I hope that this (very long) post helped explain what this man and his work, means to me.
There’s Some Flava For Your Ear
P.S. If you do nothing else PLEASE check out I AM JUST A RAPPER and I AM JUST A RAPPER 2 those tapes are so dope, and I guarantee you it will at least makwe you appreciate Indie music more.