Donald Glover a.k.a Childish Gambino left the sitcom Community to be on his own. The actor and musician said it himself in a handwritten note via Instagram. Glover also wrote about “fear” and “loneliness” among other things in a very personal but public emotional purge. So, it makes sense that the funnyman’s album Because The Internet, which leaked a week early, brings the same level of candidness. The project is also true to form in that it reflects what the internet has become; sporadic, incomprehensibly large, and bursting with strangeness. (Disclaimer: I listened to the album when it leaked and then read the accompanying screenplay a few days after when it came out. Hence the angle.. maybe the SITR team will go back and critique it in the context of the screenplay or take a look at the screenplay itself.)
Because The Internet starts with a horror movie like intro that plays into “Crawl”. Gambino uses these instrumentals throughout his album as segues that actively keep the sonic journey going. “Crawl” is kinetic track where CG let’s loose lyrically. The rapper rhymes, “June/July, drop something. I double dare you, I mark summers. I scorch winters, I burn autumns. Gut n*ggas, so Kurt Vonnegut.” He effortlessly throws out one liner jabs and internet references. The track itself switches from a hollow melody with strings to a chaotic bassfest with screeching ad-libs. Gambino takes the same loose cannon approach in the aptly titled “WORLDSTAR”. CG navigates the bass heavy banger with references to fight compilations, Vine, and “netwerking”. The warped psychedelic sax solo at the close add a perfect cap to the song. The rap heavy songs continue with “Sweatpants”. Childish Gambino next
flexes his braggadocio on rhyming, “Still spittin’ that cash flow, DJ Khaled. I got houses on both coasts, pH balance.” Gambino goes on to ask if his peers are really “eating”.
By now, anyone questioning CG as a rapper should get that he can run with the best of them. But the real beauty of Gambino’s skill is his delivery and creativeness. Name another rapper who uses a literary legend as his punchline. Exactly. CG’s braggart raps are clever and funny instead of brainless material binges (case in point: Gambino cues up a motor sound effect after mentioning his Fisker but then quietly reneges saying, “Fiskers don’t make noise when they start up; just so you know.”) Gambino’s songs are littered with trips around the world and MoMa references. The man doesn’t take himself too seriously and is never afraid to joke whether it be about wealth, his musical prowess, or women. Now, that’s refreshing.
“The Worst Guys” and “3005” are two other album standouts. Childish Gambino links up with rising star, Chance the Rapper, on the former for a fun song detailing daily life. Smoking, pretty girls, and parties aren’t such a bad mix. The latter, an upbeat ballad that borrows a video game-esque synth, puts CG in the groove. The rapper croons to a girl about how nothing really matters except their relationship. It’s optimistic, warm, and innocent at best. Conversely, “Telegraph Ave” is less fantasy and more pragmatic. Childish Gambino and producer Ludwig Göransson expertly pair a couple soft chords, G-Force Minimonsta with an amp and some 808’s. CG reaches out to his girl who’s holed up in Oakland. Oakland ends up coming to symbolize all the obstacles in the relationship. He’s a little scared of this relationship. She won’t leave Oakland and wants to settle down but there’s still some trepidation on his half. Their timing is just off. If you’ve ever been in a serious relationship then this track speaks to you. We see potential in others but it’s often marred by reservations. And perhaps worst of all; we end up lamenting these missed opportunities in time.
The second half of Because The Internet continues with Gambino’s use of instrumental segues. However, the digital journey gets more melancholy as CG dives into the darker depths of the internet. Audiences are treated to the sounds of the far corners of the web. Listeners are guided into a strange primal shindig by a Prince sounding Gambino on “The Party”. The drug infused odysseys is abruptly interrupted when Childish comes down from his high and kicks everyone out of his pad. Now, the good vibes are replaced by paranoia and insomnia. The rapper cries out, “Don’t go, gotta know. Please don’t run away. I’m a murderer. What can I say?” while staring at a brown recluse spider. Childish Gambino then takes us on a night ride through town until we return back at home to meet up with our spider again. The wordsmith forms a parallel with his eight legged nighttime acquaintance. Childish Gambino and the spider are recluses in hiding. They don’t mean harm but they “bite” when disturbed. Who is CG lashing out at? Close friends? Family? Women? We can’t be sure but it’s happening. “Zealots of Stockholm” keeps the dark motif moving. The track starts with a foggy wave as Gambino questions someone. The blur and subtle strings are traded in for revved up club scene in the bar as CG flirts with an attractive foreign girl in hopes of feeling “something”. Kilo Kish sings on the hook, “Is it real, cause you’re online?” The song begs to answer this question. What are we feeling in every interaction via keystroke?
Listeners are saved before they go completely off the deep end with the melodic Jhené Aiko assisted love song “Pink Toes”. Gambino and Aiko dance around a fairy tale romance where the songstress eventually trusts her drug dealing hero. The melody is divine and the combination of the two singers works brilliantly. Gambino also showcases his vocal range on “Urn”; a groovy segue track with a certain 70’s feel. The album comes to a close with “Earth: The Oldest Computer (The Last Night)” and “Life: The Biggest Troll (Andrew Auernheimer)”. “Earth” is a rousing dance record complete with backup from Azealia Banks. Gambino raps freely on “Life” about an interesting girl he met and his struggles.
Because The Internet is a great offering from a talented creative mind. Childish Gambino offers a concept album in that his songs mirror internet concepts. To make matters more “interesting” CG has released a 73 page interactive screenplay that accompanies his album (read it HERE like I did if you have a chance.. the album plays more like a soundtrack when you do. EVERYTHING makes more sense too.) I don’t think I’ve seen anything remotely like this project in recent memory. Because The Internet is a sonic smorgasbord of an album. But much more than that – it’s a cinematic experience and a strange experiment that you must listen, read, and watch.