By Susanna Comfort
Staff Writer

We all have varying mental images at the mention of Miley Cyrus. Once popular for her hit TV show “Hannah Montana,” she quickly outgrew that role and chose to begin a music career.

Regardless of your opinion of Miley writhing in a bird cage while wailing “I can’t be tamed” to a mind-numbing, repetitive beat, we are all familiar with people who think they are a jack of all trades.

In reality, most people are only exceptional at one or a few things (ahem Miley Cyrus). NYU grad, and TV personality Donald Glover is another story.

From the basement to the television to the earphones and now to the stereos of millions, Glover, stage named Childish Gambino, has mesmerized and stunned an audience across the globe. He began as a YouTube personality on the web series Derrick Comedy which led to him becoming a writer for the TV show “30 Rock” and is now well-known for his role as a college student, Troy, on the NBC comedy “Community.”

Not only is he a writer, an actor, and a comedian, he’s adding indie rapper to his list. Glover, after signing to Glassnote Records, released his first studio album titled “Camp,” in 2011 after the production of multiple independent mixtapes. This laundry list of accomplishments may leave you wondering how good his music actually is. But have no doubts – Gambino truly is a jack-of-all-trades.

Take for example “Cul-De-Sac,” Gambino’s third independent album. The songs are filled with samples of artists from Adele to Garfunkel and Oates, rich with the influences of musicians from MGMT to Animal Collective. In an interview with “Complex” magazine, the rapper spoke of the album’s inspiration: “I listened to a lot of indie music. I feel like a lot rap heads don’t really listen to a whole bunch of music and are closing themselves off. People feel that if you like T.I. then you won’t like Animal Collective or if you like Jeezy you’d probably hate Lykke Li, and I don’t think that’s the case.” He was right. Critics praised the album. “The Huffington Post” even drew parallels between Gambino and famed rapper, Tupac.
As his popularity grew, Gambino signed a record deal with Glassnote Records, the host of alternative artists from Two Door Cinema Club to Mumford and Sons. His breakout album “Camp,” was different than his first few independent albums. He was vulnerable and raw. He was autobiographical, telling the narrative of a kid lost in a maze of bullying, broken relationships, alcoholism, and suicidal tendencies. He was personal in a way he had never been before. And the critics again, took notice. Robert Christgau, in his consumer guide for MSN music, wrote the album was: “more satisfying emotionally, because the autobiography reaches deep.”

But our talented rapper was not always this way.
Step into a time machine with me for a moment. Let’s revisit the years 2005, 2008, and 2010, when Gambino released his first three mixtapes – “The Younger I Get,” “Sick Boi,” and “Poindexter.” A listen to these earlier works tells a starkly different narrative – the lyrics full of overused clichéd hip hop references to banging girls, being “fresh,” and of course, wealth, riches, and fame. Gambino himself later even disowned his first mixtape, claiming it was reminiscent of a “decrepit Drake.”

So what changed? Through interviews the story of his journey from Donald Glover to Childish can be heard. Gambino spoke of how he had to hide behind various gimmicks, a product of his rough upbringing. He wasn’t worried about having a unique voice – he was merely blending in while mimicking the sounds of his fellow artists.

In a particular article with Laist, a daily entertainment and news journal based in L.A., Gambino says: “In “Sick Boi, I was trying to play into something, but turn it on it’s head, like ‘Oh, I sound like you other rappers, but my voice is high, and it sorta sounds like my nose is clogged’. It was me messing around with a lot of that, and on Poindexter I did a lot of that too.”

His decision to move onto personal material according to him: “kind of changed everything. I was amazed at how big those [mixtapes] got…. The more you’re yourself, the more people want to hear you.” And he was right. Listeners aren’t looking for the same things over and over – listeners are looking for something new, fresh, and different. Gambino is that voice for hip hop and his choice is rewarding to both the listener and the artist.

And he’s still looking forward. As he wrote recently, “Look, I’m only going to get better.” And you have to believe him.

The Elm

One thought on “Childish Gambino: from stand-up to sold out shows

  1. I am looking forward to him getting better! <3

    By Njeri Oct 02,2012 @ 5:31 am

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