It's been a crazy year for Donald Glover, but nothing has been more blazing than his career as rapper Childish Gambino. The project, born of a Wu-Tang name generator, is full of witty, rambunctious energy, as he effortlessly demonstrates in his session at Rockwood Music Hall. Along with collaborator and musical guru Ludwig Göransson on electric guitar, Gambino rips through tracks from his wildly popular EP as well as the lead single from his debut album Camp (out now on Glassnote Records). From introspection to love to pop culture and punny metaphors, Gambino runs an impressive lyrical gammit, one that inspires all the vital decision making organs.
...homegirl, drop it like the NASDAQ Move white girls like there's coke up my asscrack Move black girls 'cause, man, fuck it, I'll do either I love pussy, I love bitches, Dude, I should be runnin' PETA In Adidas, with some short shorts, B-O-O all over me My green is where it's supposed to be, your green is in my grocery This Asian dude, I stole his girl, and now he got that Kogi beef My dick is like an accent mark, it's all about the over Es Hot like a parked car I sound weird like nigger with a hard R Fly like the logo on my cousin's 440 Eatin' Oreos like these white girls that blow me Vodka for my ladies, whiskey for a grown man Hangin' in the islands, lookin' for Earl like ToeJam I made the beat retarded, so I'm callin' it a slow jam Butcher and I know it, man, kill beef, go ham These rappers are afraid of him 'cause I'm a beast, bitch, Gir, Invader Zim Gambino is a call girl, fuck you, pay me Brand new whip for these niggas like slavery They told me I was awful man, that shit did not phase me Tell me how I suck again, my memory is hazy "You're my favorite rapper now" Yeah, dude, I better be Or you can fuckin' kiss my ass, Human Centipede You wanna see my girl? I ain't that dumb You wanna see my girl? Check Maxon "Man, why does every black actor gotta rap some?" I don't know, All I know is I'm the best one It's a bonfire, turn the lights out I'm burnin' everything you muthafuckas talk about It's a bonfire, turn the lights out I'm burnin' everything You muthafuckas talk about You know these rapper dudes talk shit, Start killin', well, fuck that, I got goons like an arch-villain I'm from the South, ain't got no accent, Don't know why so this rap is child's play, I do my name like Princess Di Yeah, they say they want the realness, rap about my real life Told me I should just quit "First of all, you talk white, Second off, you talk like you haven't given up yet" Rap's stepfather, Yeah, you hate me but you will respect I put in work, ask Ludwig Put my soul on the track like shoes did I played this for my cousin, now he can't even think straight Black and white music? Now, nigga, that's a mixtape Shout out to my blerds, they represent the realness Shout out to Gambino, girls, my dick is in the building I know you hate me 'cause your little cousin play me And I like black girls who nerdy, but when they dance, they be sayin', "Owww" I'm sorry for who followed me I'm chillin' with a Filipina At your local Jollibee Yeah, I'm in her ass like sodomy So if you see my hand under the table, don't bother me I don't talk soft, that's that other guy I'm screamin', "What the fuck is up?" like I ain't seen the sky This stuff I'm doin' this year, Insanity I made the beat then murdered it, Casey Anthony These rappers won't know what to do 'Cause all I did was act me like a Loony Tune And I'll give you everything until there's nothing left I swear this summer will be Summer Camp, bitch rapping trying to sound like as normal as possible like everyone as much as possible. I was trying because when I first started rapping they were just like you sound like Millhouse rapping, like my voice was just so high and I just wanted it to be low. I wanted to have Shyne's voice or Biggie's voice, like Rick Ross', I just wanted to have like a cool voice and I just didn't. And it took me a long time to just like embrace it and be okay with that. And it's funny because when I rap, they were like, "You sound white. You sound like...you have a high voice. " And now everybody's like, "You sound like Wayne," and I'm like, "Wayne sound like me, you know?" I have a high voice, and a lot of the rap game is differentiating yourself from everybody else but I feel like if you really have a focus and really stick to it and are brave enough to do it, then I guess your differences come through, I think, at the end. I stunt hard I make it work Yeah, I make it work, Yeah, I make it work, I work hard I make it work, Yeah, I make it work, Yeah, yeah Childish Gambino, lame niggas never heard of it Sick Boi is the crew, fuck these niggas with a dirty dick When these mothafuckas gonna understand I'm serious? I'm hard in the paint like I fuck her on her period James Dean swag, leather jacket, white t-shirt, rolled up sleeves, Nigga lookin' like a greaser Word is born, baby, My dictionary's in labor Listen to the Culdesac And know that was an ultimatum, man, why nobody wanna admit they like me Just a little bit? Won't be on the freshmen list Guess I'll just keep spittin' shit Never be the rapper with $600 shades No iced-out chain, Rod Lavers all day I was hopin' they would see me Just for me, dope rhymer They do me like my first house, No co-signer See you usin' qualifiers, You don't even know, "I guess he good for a rapper who's on a TV show" Even though I was rappin' back when Lance had chemo Even flow, Pearl Jammin' niggas can't leave me alone, I keep a bone for these girls who liked me back when green was low Feel me, though, DVR my thoughts and make your TiVo grow Runnin' through the moment as the sun goes down Starlight, starlight, and all I ever wanted was to hear that sound All night, all night But it's all for you to prove it Keep on movin', keep on usin' My shine, my shine, my shine Oh, take me higher, higher, higher Oh, take me higher, higher, higher Gambino make it work somethin' Let me check the syntax Don't add an eezy to my name It has never been that Aladdin on you fuckers, prince of the game from street rat Dudes fall off, too steep like tea bags Steady movin', don't worry about where I'mma be 'cause I'mma be on these tracks Like indie girls on Amelie Honesty I'm rappin' 'bout everything I go through 'Cause everything I'm sayin', I'm super sayin' like Goku Fuck nerdcore, fuck backpack Fuck rap cool, I make cool rap I make music for wack blacks To blast back In fact, I swear the track I lie on's my last track Runnin' through the moment As the sun goes down Starlight, starlight And all I ever wanted was to hear that sound all night, all night But it's all for you to prove it Keep on movin', keep on usin' My shine, my shine, my shine Runnin' through the moment As the sun goes down Starlight, starlight And all I ever wanted was to hear that sound All night, all night But it's all for you to prove it Keep on movin', keep on usin' My shine, my shine. - My Shine is another song on the EP that I felt was the first step, it's one of the first steps, that one and like Not Going Back I think was one of the first steps towards Camp, like rapping about myself more. I guess rapping about middle class black problems. Camp is the album. It's the new Childish Gambino album coming out. It's a real... I don't know. I really like it. I had a lot of fun making it. I don't even know...like, we started writing it. We came here for Thanksgiving last year. And the first song...actually the claps are from my sister and her friends and stuff like that. We were in the kitchen doing it, and we were just having fun and stuff. And, yeah, it's a really...I've never been I guess, like, this open with an album. Like with a lot of stuff, I was just kind of rapping about stuff. And sometimes I am silly but I leel like, I don't know, Camp is pretty much my diary. Freaks and Geeks is a song that was on the EP. That literally was the last song we'd made. We've made all the rest of the EP. And then we had one song left and it wasn't sounding right. You were like, "I don't know. " I sent it to you and you were like it was not great. So I just stayed home and I stayed up late at night. And I just worked on this beat all night and then I sent it to him. 10 hours and you were all done. - Yeah, it was done. It just came to me and it was good and that song just happened to catch on I think it's because it was just very...it was all wordplay. That's all it was. It was a very like blah kind of song. It was all like relating this to this and this. That's all it was supposed to be. - It was like an SAT test. - Yeah, just like an SAT. Childish Gambino is the SAT of rappers. All right, Gambino is a mastermind, fuck a bitch to pass the time Mass appeal, orange rind, smoke your green, I'm spendin' mine The beat is witches brew, but beware this shit is potent E. E. Cummings on her face Now that's poetry in motion Yeah, Gambino make it work I'm the boss, move somethin' Yeah, this cool fuckin' suits me, swag two button Yeah, these girls be actin' crazy when they're dancin' Black Swan I ain't fuckin' at the club, put your clothes back on Yeah, this beat is a disaster, 9/11 this track Rappers wanna battle me I have to mail their heads back And my clique make that Dinero, so it's time to meet The Fockers I am runnin' this bitch You are just a dog walker Leavin' with your girl when we last seen each other Yeah, you fuckin' with the baddest like we tag team Rihanna Fly girl on her knees She don't wanna come near me 'Cause my dick is too big There's a Big Bang Theory Got her picture in my iPhone What do y'all think? While y'all niggas masturbate? I'm in that Ariel Pink If I am just a rapper man, you coulda fooled me I'm the shit When these dudes talk, They talkin' bull me Oh, oh, oh, yeah All right, I'm down with the black girl of every single culture Filipino, Armenian girls on my sofa Yeah, I like the white girls Sometimes we get together Need a thick chick though So it's black and yellow, black and yellow Love is a trip but fuckin' is a sport Are their Asian girls here? Minority Report Put your team on the map, Blake Griffin on the court Niggas bitin' off my tracks, They need a knife and a fork We the illest, need a nurse, Here's cheque, Grab your purse Unless we fuckin', then I'll pay for all the food on the Earth Man, I got some pussy that was insane So insane it's an enemy of Batman I'm Dominant, niggas call me faggot 'cause they closeted I'm hot as shit, comin' out the backside of a rocket ship This monster shit, You dudes are the opposite Of Lochnesses Respond to this, we can squash the beef Right now like sausages I'm chillin' with my N words I say it like a white kid Yes, your booty's big as hers Say that to my white chick So she don't get embarassed My dick is made of carrots Bunnies wantin' to be fed And I meant honeys, Oh, forget it I have worked all Winter, I will not fail Summer In the back of the bush like Gavin Rossdale's drummer Yeah, my stinger's in her flower I hope she lets me pollenate Workin' hard as shit, Yeah, my beat is made from concentrate Nigga, can't you tell that my sample of Adele was so hot? I got these hood niggas blowin' up my cell? Swag out the ass. I'm the man, Fuck chico Took the G out your waffle, All you got left is your ego Think about it for a second, Man, we eatin', Where's your breakfast? Man, you hungry Have this sandwich, wallet, cheese and lettuce An elephant never forgets, So my dick remembers everything Green inside your wallet Is that pussy open sesame? Runnin' the game, fuck am I sayin', runnin' the Earth, give me a month Told all you niggas I'm in it to win it 'Cause havin' an Emmy just wasn't enough You get sloppy drunk, I stay whiskey neat My clique should be cancelled, Freaks and Geeks, I'm coming, I'm coming, I'm coming for 'ya.
That's not just a line from "Bonfire," the leadoff single from Childish Gambino's new Glassnote album, CAMP it's a mission statement. Childish Gambino is the rapper persona of Donald Glover, who doesn't exactly have the stereotypical hip-hop backstory. Yes, we know Jay-Z started as a big-time drug dealer from the Brooklyn projects; Glover didn't sell crack, though, but laughs before he became known on the mic, he was a successful, college-educated writer, actor, and comedian who grew up in the suburbs.
Glover first bum-rushed the pop-culture conversation as a member of Derrick Comedy, the sketch-comedy troupe whose 2007 video sketch "Bro Rape" became one of the earliest YouTube viral sensations. "Bro Rape"'s multi-million views led Glover to a stint writing for "The Daily Show"; then, before he'd even completed his senior year at New York University, Glover secured a gig writing for the smash series "30 Rock." His acting career blew up next: in 2009, Glover starred in Derrick Comedy's debut film Mystery Team a hit at the Sundance Film Festival then was cast on NBC cult hit "Community" as ex-football-star-with-an-identity crisis Troy Barnes. His Hollywood triumphs, however, eclipsed Glover's MC career. "I knew that because of '30 Rock' and 'Community,' people will find out I'm a comedian before they know I do music," says Glover. "But I've been doing music long before any of that."
Indeed, as Childish Gambino a name created randomly via an online Wu-Tang name generator Glover has previously released four full albums (2002's The Younger I Get, 2004's Sick Boi, 2008's Poindexter, and 2010's Culdesac), two mixtapes (2010's I Am Just A Rapper series), and a 2011 EP featuring the Web phenomenon "Freaks And Geeks." "My favorite thing is people are always like, 'You're the same person?'," Glover explains. "There's no difference between Donald Glover and Childish Gambino they're the same. I just want people to come at my music differently, because if CAMP was a Donald Glover album they'd be like, 'Okay, this is a joke record.' But I don't look at writing comedy as any different from writing raps." As such, the first line Gambino spits on "Bonfire" works as both virtuoso MC metaphor and goofball humor: "I love bitches, I love pussy/I should be running PETA." Still, Glover's identity crisis comes up a lot. At his appearance at 2011's Bonnaroo, he performed both in a music tent as Childish Gambino and a comedy tent under his government name; that split only reflects what's happening in hip-hop culture itself, though. As Gambino/Glover wonders on CAMP's standout track "All The Shine," "Is there room in the game for a lame who rhymes?/Who wears short-shorts and makes jokes sometimes?"
"Rap has embraced its capacity for self-parody," Glover notes. "The line between comedy and hip-hop is so blurred: Ludacris had a number-one hit that was exclusively puns from Austin Powers! Rappers are doing more interesting stuff in terms of comedy than comedians. Lil Wayne could be a comedy writer; Odd Future are straight-up theater kids, too, and people don't get that. That's why I'm able to do what I do. Old-school rap is like a three-camera sitcom with a laugh track telling where the joke is; single-camera comedy is more like, 'Is this funny? I don't know' Hopefully my album, much like Das Racist or Kanye, walks that fine line where you're like, 'Uh, I have to think about this...' There's a lyric on 'Bonfire' that goes 'Brand new whip for these niggas, like slavery' some people laugh at that, but my mother does not!"
CAMP takes that tension to new heights. It's a true rap album, but one that defies easy categorization and revels in the resulting confusion. For one, Glover made a conscious choice to skip the usual parade of big name hip-hop producers: he and frequent collaborator Ludwig Gransson acclaimed soundtrack composer for "Community" and films like 30 Minutes Or Less wrote and recorded all the music on CAMP: yes, those are real violins on "All The Shine." "I arranged those strings!" Glover exclaims. "I make my own beats and I rap." Other than Questlove providing drums on "That Power," CAMP also remains intentionally free of rap-celeb features. "Questlove is technically my co-sign, but maybe rap has grown past the co-sign," Glover says. "I thought, 'You know what? No one else but me should be on this album.' That move just seemed so anti-hip-hop, I had to do it!"
"I kind of like that everybody is waiting to hate my album," Glover adds. "It's going to take people off guard." For sure, CAMP proves provocative even down to its title. "I was trying to come up with something that's as far away from the streets as possible," he says. "It's partially a race thing like, 'black people don't camp.' Going to camp is also when you experience real life away from your parents for the first time. Minorities and gay people use camp, too, to make fun of the majority; plus, I wanted to deal with the whole 'if you're not black enough, you're gay' thing." CAMP doesn't stop there in tweaking expectations. While there's no shortage of bangers like the lyrical, gritty-snare-driven "Backpackers" or the clubtastic anthem "Heartbeat", there's also the showtune-musical chorus of "Outside" or the extended spoken-word monologue of "That Power" to freak the musical context.
"I sound weird, like 'nigger' with a hard 'r'," Gambino admits on "Bonfire." Likewise, Glover has been famed for rhyming over indie grooves via the likes of Animal Collective, Sleigh Bells, Grizzly Bear, Vampire Weekend, and Sufjan Stevens. "While you niggas masturbate, I'm in that Ariel Pink," he rapped on "Freaks And Geeks"; on CAMP's "Firefly," he memorably claims to be "the only black kid at a Sufjan concert." As such, tracks like "Outside" seem as influenced by electronica and Brian Wilson as they are by, say, Just Blaze. "Questlove has been pushing me, saying 'Black nerds need a voice, and you're it,'" Glover laughs. "We talked about calling what I do 'black nerd culture.' Some people call it 'blipster,' which at first I was against: what does a blipster like that a hipster doesn't? Jay-Z is really the biggest nerd ever! But I'm just glad people have a name for what people like me, Lil B, and Tyler, The Creator do; we're just black kids with laptops, except now it's cool to be black and ride a skateboard. This is the first generation where it's okay to be from the suburbs. I don't feel like a fuckin' weirdo anymore for listening to Wilco and having brown skin. I want to be the LCD Soundsystem of rap at the same time, they're playing 'Bonfire' on Hot 97, which is all I've ever wanted."
The real lyrical skills and serious flow on display throughout CAMP confound any hipster/comedian stereotyping, however. As an MC, Gambino sidesteps pigeonholes while exploring the album's various themes: race and identity, "realness," being on the outside looking in, and hard work as well as the various pleasures of Asian women and wearing short-shorts. Sometimes he uses vicious punch lines that could come from a veteran battle rapper ("Niggas breath stank/All they do is shit talk"); other times he's just silly, warping the current trend of "hashtag raps" la Drake/Big Sean to their absurd extreme ("You can fuckin' kiss my ass/Human Centipede"). He's also not afraid to contradict himself ("I am a role model/I am not these other guys/I rap about my dick and talk about which girls is fly") or break your heart with confessional stories from growing up in Stone Mountain, Georgia ("I used to get called 'Oreo' and faggot/I used to get more laughs when I got laughed at"; "This one kid said something that was really bad/He said I wasn't really black because I had a dad/I think that's kinda sad mostly because a lot of black kids think they should agree with that"). Other times, Gambino just dazzles with insane, complex pop-culture references ("It's 400 Blows to these Truffaut niggas"). Even when Gambino's dissing, his truth is so brutal it's hard not to laugh, like when he says "You're not 'not racist' cuz 'The Wire' is in your Netflix queue" on "Hold You Down." "I don't want this album to be pointing a finger," Glover says. "Just be aware. In the song 'Backpackers,' there's the line 'Rap is for real blacks' that's the point of the album. It's like Louis CK, or Chris Rock. The first time I heard Chris Rock, I was like 'Holy shit! It's like I'm laughing at a sermon!' The reason I got into comedy and rap was that amazing feeling when someone says something that makes you go 'Wow, I feel uncomfortable!'"
CAMP represents just the beginning of the ambitions Glover has for the Childish Gambino movement as he clarifies on "Hold You Down," "I won't stop until they say James Franco is the white Donald Glover." Glover's acting career continues its rise "Community" just began its third season, and he's appearing in the upcoming Muppets movie, as well as indie comedy The To-Do List alongside Aubrey Plaza from "Parks And Recreation" ("I'm the guy who eats her out"); as well, his first solo comedy special, WEIRDO, will air on Comedy Central on November 20th. Despite those successes, Glover claims "music has kind of taken over my life so much. It's weird: I don't think standup needs me as much as music does. Black kids come up to me and tell me 'It feels good to have someone saying you're not alone.' In the same way Kanye never thought for a second that him being the biggest star in the world is crazy, I never thought it was crazy that I wrote for '30 Rock.' I was always supposed to be this I'm here for a reason. A lot of people fight against what I'm doing, but if we don't have that struggle, what are we? Struggle is part of the black experience. But then I just like to have fun and rap about bitches and Asian girls. I don't know when to stop. I don't know when to shut up!"