Music review: Because the Internet

December 13, 2013
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Because the Internet by Childish Gambino

Glassnote Records UPC: 810599020453

Released December 12, 2013

Donald Glover is where it’s at, according to the current showbiz kingmakers at TMZ. Also known as the rapper, Childish Gambino, Glover is the most potent kind of Power Brother – going for, unlike his contemporaries Jay Z, Kanye West, P-Diddy (or whatever his persona is this moth), Chief Keef, Redman or Dizzee Rascal, a sense of many-layered privacy – which is a particularly potent kind of mystery persona harking back to something akin to Greta Garbo and old-school Hollywood. The man is, if nothing else, stunningly prolific.

Coming to my attention first as a sitcom writer for 30 Rock, he’s the expected, uncensored cable TV standup in specials, a fantastic turn as Troy Barnes on NBC’s Community, and a relentless number of rap albums, all of which were bootlegged or just thrown out there on the net before Camp, his first studio release in 2011. At the same time, Glover also creates a separate, but resonant digital Bad Boy persona. He tweets in amounts comparable to Herman Melville’s first draft of Moby Dick.  Now he’s even making sitcom-type guest appearances on podcasts like The Nerdist, England’s Talk Sports about soccer and Rosenberg Radio. I’m a big fan of his little cameos for the Derrick Comedy Troupe, too. He’s a renaissance man, y’all!

Childish Gambino
Photo by Helga Esteb

Then he disappeared, canceling his Twitter and Instagram accounts. Where is Donald Glover?” Time Magazine wondered. Silly us… he was recording a new album, Because the Internet. An ode to, umm, post-fame, it has all the self-indulgent forays you’d predict from an artiste grappling with success, too much sex and, umm, parental disapproval. Yet as self-indulgent as his trope is prone to be, we get poetry and irate rants about celebrity shaped by Internet life. Often thoughtful, repeatedly maudlin, it’s both tortured and ambivalent

The idea of vigilance permeates the entire album. The name Snowden is never mentioned, but he’s there out of Russia in the subtext throughout. Signor Gambino – his pseudonym redolent of the last Capo-di-tutto-capo of the New York five Cosa Nostra mafioso families – loves to talk the talk about trolling, social media, and WorldStarHipHop: The new status-quo. Strange lyrics about surfers, spiders, race, delusions of post-race. A cute Clarissa Explains It All. My youngest insists it’s self-indulgent to Nth degree and overproduced. Love it or leave it, the clever-clogs sexy lyricism that gave us the Childish Gambino we know is still there, just not in spades. He is certainly not even slightly interested in coming into your space as a gangsta of any kind.

Because the Internet grew on me. Tracks like ‘Worldstar’ and ‘Crawl’ got me bang-bang right away. There are no genuine excuses for generic lines like “Trollin, trollin, trollin these niggas/Rick Rollin these niggas, they mad cause they don’t know any better.”  Not to mention… memes… like “Ain’t nobody got time for that/It’s a trap!” A cliché is a cliché is a cliché, sonny. And you know it! The last ‘Day in the Life’ is the pseudo arty-fatty, ‘Life: The Biggest Troll (Andrew Auernheimer),’ named after the infamous hacker. Thank God the rest of Gambino’s album manages to remain pretty reference-free. The Emperor doesn’t necessarily need new clothes, but dumb badinage like, “Girl why is you lyin?/Girl why you Mufasa?” stifles the possibility of true greatness.

Nevertheless, 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. Nevertheless, songs like the funny ‘Sweatpants‘ are memorable winners. Softer psalms like ‘Telegraph Ave’, ‘Shadows’,Oakland’ and ‘3005’ conjure up a lovely relaxed groove and are softer and better known for their incredibly relaxed mood.

Childish can be both kitschy and catchy. Insanely catchy, for better or for worse. Atypically ‘The Worst Guys’ with Chance the Rapper has an awesome chorus. He actually sings a bit and can hold a tune. The production is fantastic and fun. I just wish he’d put in more time on the lyrics and quit worrying about what his fellow bloggers are thinking about him. At any rate, as burned out as he insists he is, one wonders where Mr. Glover will land on cat feet next.

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