US comedian Donald Glover has seriously good rhymes
Donald Glover – aka Childish Gambino –is well aware that he conforms to no-one’s idea of hip-hop ‘realness’. But then, as he points out, “All the real niggas I know are either crazy or dead”, so it’s hardly his loss. Raised a Jehovah’s Witness in a small Georgia suburb, Glover graduated from NYU and wound up working in television, landing a writing gig on 30 Rock and an acting one on Community. Last year, The Internet got this close to having him cast as the new Spider-Man, and next year he’ll be seen in the new Muppets movie. Hardly the stuff great hip-hop is made of, right?
Um, wrong. For starters, Glover is no dilettante: ‘Camp’ is his fourth full-lengther under his nom de rap (taken from a Wu-Tang Clan name generator), and the best to date. For another thing, while he’s a gifted comedian, his focus is never really on being funny – just witty, heartfelt, honest and occasionally uproarious.
He’s been variously tagged as backpack and nerdcore, and you can kind of understand why: on ‘[b]LES[/b]’, Glover skewers his own hipsterhood by describing a bathroom clinch with a girl who’s “[i]Got ironic tattoos on her back/That ain’t ironic bitch, I love Rugrats”, before decreeing on ‘Hold You Down’ that “you’re not not-racist ’cos The Wire’s in your Netflix queue”. Pop-cultural references like that abound – his indie name-checks range from Mumford & Sons to Radiohead to Sufjan Stevens – but there’s also an emotional heart to songs like ‘Outside’ and the epic, seven-minute (and largely spoken-word) ‘That Power’ that can’t be expressed in air-quotes.
“Why does every black actor gotta rap some?” Glover wonders on ‘Bonfire’, before concluding, “I don’t know, all I know is I’m the best one”. And that’s true, even if it’s not much of a claim. I’m about to make a bigger one on his behalf, though: fuck Tyler’s empty posturing, this is the hip-hop album of the year.