A Childish Gambino music primer
When Childish Gambino takes the stage in Brookings Quadrangle this coming Friday, his set promises to be ambitious and exciting. Childish Gambino has been on his Deep Web Tour for the past few months, and the biggest question is whether he will try to replicate aspects of the tour at W.I.L.D. The Deep Web show is technologically complex, featuring an interactive app that allows audience members to send pictures, messages and drawings onto a communal screen. Recent sets have focused on Gambino’s sophomore album, “Because the Internet,” but it’s possible that, without his complex stage set, he will draw more from his rich back catalogue. Songs from his debut album, 2011’s “Camp,” as well as his 2012 mixtape, “Royalty,” are the most likely to be included. If you’re planning on attending W.I.L.D. this Friday, take some time to explore Gambino’s catalogue.
Donald Glover has been rapping under the name Childish Gambino since the mid-2000s and has been making music since his days at New York University. He began releasing music (including the 2005 Sufjan Stevens remix album “Illin-Noise!”) under the name mcDJ. His first release as Childish Gambino was 2005’s “The Younger I Get” (now unavailable), followed by 2008’s “Sick Boi” and 2009’s “Poindexter.” His early mixtapes are rough compared to his most recent work, and his vocal style pulls from Lil Wayne most evidently. On the “I Am Just A Rapper” mixtapes (2010), Gambino doesn’t just sample other songs; he straight covers them, adding his own lyrics on top of the originals. The standout track is “B—- Look At Me Now,” which covers Grizzly Bear’s “Two Weeks.” Gambino’s early mixtapes are an exercise in musical exploration and a relentless sense of fun. His lyrics are jokey and light but moving toward something unique.
It wasn’t until 2010’s “Culdesac” that Childish Gambino found widespread popularity, led by the Adele-sampling “Do Me Like.” On the mixtape, he takes on more mature subjects, like growing up in Georgia, attending mostly white schools and relationship issues. He still retains his sense of fun though, calling himself “Cheezy,” making puns (“I’m in love with you, but this is not tennis”) and promoting his #donaldforspiderman campaign.
In 2011, Gambino released “EP,” which included “Freaks and Geeks,” a relentless affirmation of greatness filled with quotable lines. The tape also includes more personal tracks, like “Not Going Back.” “EP” served as the lead-in to Gambino’s major label debut, “Camp.” Featuring production from Ludwig Gorannson, “Camp” explores themes similar to previous releases but in a more epic manner. It featured several tracks that are still popular, such as “Hearbeat,” “Bonfire” and “Backpackers.” The album doesn’t rely on traditional hip-hop beats, instead using strings, choirs and live instrumentation to give it a grand feeling. “Camp” pushed Gambino further into the mainstream, despite some negative reviews.
Gambino’s next release, “Royalty,” took a decidedly different approach than “Camp.” He worked with various collaborators, including Chance the Rapper, Beck, Ghostface Killah and Tina Fey. “Royalty” is a rap-heavy tape, and it’s clear that Gambino is coming into his own lyrically and vocally on these tracks.
“Because the Internet,” Gambino’s most recent release, is both his most ambitious and most powerful. The album picks up where “Camp” left off, with a kid sitting on the bus. From there, the album explores loneliness, friendship and the way our society interacts with its online identities. It’s an expansive project, which includes a full-length screenplay, a treasure-trove of a website and a hidden blog run by the album’s protagonist. The album is structured, musically diverse and beautiful. Gambino’s rap chops and musical prowess collide and prove that he isn’t a Drake imitator but an artist in his own right. One of Gambino’s strengths is his ability to address sentimental topics with a realistic view and a sense of humor. There’s still a hint of the “old” Gambino, but it’s accompanied by the realization that real life is sometimes painful and dark.
Childish Gambino is always evolving, carrying his artistic vision with him. So whatever songs he decides to play, count on his set being a unique experience.