Because the Internet, by Childish Gambino

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Released December 6, 2013

57 min, 52 sec

The Childish Gambino of December, 2013 was a far cry from the Childish Gambino of November, 2011.

Donald Glover, the man behind the persona, was in a different spot in his own right. His departure from Community confirmed, Glover put forward the image of a man held down by disillusion, even though he was just entering his 30s. 2011’s Camp was iconic in its constant pop culture references, held together by Gambino’s surprisingly high voice when rapping, usually shouting in some manner, with an upbeat facade only occasionally giving way to Gambino’s characteristic insecurity and paranoia in his lyrics. For Because the Internet, there is no facade – Gambino is mostly calmer, his voice deeper, his rapping less hectic, and overall much, much darker. The album’s beats frequently break down into psychedelic riffs, held together by random, distorted instruments. Camp was hip-hop for young geeks disillusioned with school; Because the Internet is for adults disillusioned with everything.

It’s not necessarily clear where this shift in musical intention came from. Glover left Community to work on a different television series for FX, while also dropping his stand-up career, for the most part. Glover is a more serious individual on this record, while also making liberal use of the language of the Internet in the album’s promotion. The cover art is intended to be a .GIF; after a few seconds, the image of Glover distorts until it is rendered a black, featureless mass, quickly reverting back to the image of Glover. (The effect is emulated on physical formats with a lenticular cover.) A screenplay intended to “sync up” with the album was released at the same time as the album, featuring heavy use of Internet-related shorthand and emoticons. This screenplay was preceded by a short film, Clapping for the Wrong Reasons, which also acts as a prelude to it.

As for the music, it’s a strong hip-hop album, taking from several other genres in the process. Gambino is a clever rapper, and he has a great grasp on his own flow. He produced many of the songs himself, and his production is characterized by rapid tempo and mood shifts, with lengthy sung interludes. The track list is rendered as several multi-song suites; this is more for thematic effect than anything else, as the songs do not transition directly between each other. The experimental nature of much of the album doesn’t always hit home; the best, most enjoyable tracks are the ones where Gambino adheres to “traditional” hip-hop stylings.

I love Childish Gambino, and I loved Donald Glover as a comedian. Both Because the Internet and Camp are powerful statements in hip-hop, even if Gambino doesn’t have the exposure in the music world that he does as an actor. There’s not much for me to say beyond that; I’ve always found it difficult to make grand statements about artists, and this post is six hours late anyway.

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As a pre-note: tomorrow’s post will probably be late as well.

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