A Childish Gambino music primer

Noah Jodice | Contributing Writer

Eli Watson | Flickr Creative Commons

Childish Gambino performs in Austin, Texas, on April 5, 2012.


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.

  • Doughty

    I wonder if Ja Rule would start his WILD concert “on time” LOL

    • Mike

      Hahahaha i get the joke

  • LonelyGuy

    I mean JaRule is so yesterday. How about Blink 182 or Sum 41. Their music had heart.

  • Becca

    I thought this was a joke but the more I think about it the more I think a Ja Rule WILD would absolutely rock the house! Love those 90’s hits

    • loko 4 dem loko

      It’s early 2000s but you’ve got the right idea

    • Mike

      Finally someone with some sense

  • Brooke

    Ja rule would be so sick!!

  • Ricky H.

    Seriously why are we even bring childish LAMEbino? Did you guys even read the article? His show is “technologically complex”? Wtf? He probably needs lasers and computers and s— to have a good show. I don’t want to have to go to an apple store to see a concert, I just want to hear some great songs. JA RULE FALL WILD 2014

  • Mike

    Ja Rule wouldn’t even be that expensive since he hasn’t been making music. We could probably get him AND ashanti for some bear bucks and a free meal at ibbys

  • Mike C.

    When I first heard Ja Rule might be coming it just about brought a tear to my eye. My favorite Murda Inc. collaborator- in person? Gambino’s chill too but they really could have hit a home run with Ja.

  • Harvey Multani

    I’m sure they have the budget to add ja rule that would be so sick! Would love to see him at my last wild

  • Baum

    @Mike, totally agree. If Ja rule came, WILD would be more than giving some facetime to some crappy indie band. It would be a musical revolution on college campuses allowing us to bring back the music that defined our youths.

  • Jeffrey Atkins

    Ja Rule and Ashanti recently said they would only use hydrocarbon fuels for their upcoming tour. Sign ‘em up!

  • Baum

    I lost my virginity at a Ja rule concert.

  • jed

    Bring back Ashanti!

  • Trollolol

    Ja rule is hella tight

  • Mike

    Ja Rule would have been better

    • Tim

      This! Seriously. Ja Rule would be awesome!

    • Jeff S.

      You are retarded, Ja Rule hasn’t been relevant in the past 10 years.

      • Mike

        Why does that matter? WILD isn’t about what artists are “up and coming,” or “relevant,” it’s about having a good time. Who wouldn’t get amped about Ja Rule?

        • CKW

          I agree. I mean I don’t think ja rule is a musical genius or anything, but he would be a great headliner. At least everyone knows him

        • Jeff S.

          I just think if you’re gonna get somebody from the beast coast, then we should look at getting Pharoahe Monch, who’s been much more relevant as of late and has had a lot more staying power in the genre as a whole. Or you could just scrap that and show STL some love and get Jibbs.

          • CKW

            Don’t be such a nerd, no one knows any of those rappers and jibbs sucks. I just want Ja rule to put it on me, not listen to some dude i’ve never heard of rap about hipster garbage

    • Rachel

      The rumor was that Team 31 WAS going to get Ja Rule but he backed out last minute for family reasons. I bet we get him in the fall.

    • Young ray

      Wait who is ja rule?

    • Jeff S.

      Okay even if we wanted to get Ja Rule, do you know how much money that costs? Have you ever even sat in on an SPB meeting?

    • cj

      Ja Rule hasn’t been significant since Em murdered his a–