Donald Glover has long been a complex character. A multi-faceted, clearly talented man, he can act, he can rap, he can produce, he can even tell jokes. A modern renaissance man, a jack of all trades, effortlessly switching from hit comedy show to hard hitting emotional rap. But can talent be spread too far, too quickly? Within recent months various social media outbursts have revealed a deeply troubled figure behind the comedy, behind the swagger and bravado of “Camp” and “Royalty”, a man who is seemingly questioning every aspect of his life and career, even stating, “I don’t wanna rap. I wanted to be on my own.” The release of Because the Internet came as somewhat of a surprise then, was this to be a cathartic purifying work for the troubled star? The album itself is a myriad of sounds and themes, about as complicated as the Internet itself. A nineteen track odyssey (accompanied by a 75 page, online, interactive screenplay) it’s part internal monologue, part ode to the modern technological era, charged with lyrical anger and intensity but at the same time shrouded in the ambiguity of random internet electronica.
Following the ominous loading of 4 second long “The Library” the listener is instantly launched into the trap meets gospel sounds of “Crawl”, with eerie screams of “Hit it Goddamn”, before that instantly recognisable flow kicks in amidst a sea of electronic distortion, “I still put it down like the family Dog, Yeah I murder some,” and like that he’s back. With following track “Worldstar” the theme of the Internet becomes apparent, with samples from the site’s infamous brawls, and hypnotic, swirling chants before taking an unexpected turn to dreamy saxophone solos. Not just in the samples is the album’s theme obvious, as even within the first few tracks there’s consistent mentions of Vine, hits, front pages, twerking and internet fame. Similarly most recent single release “3005” is an ode to modern love, with Gambino promising he’ll be there til the space age, “I’ll be right by your side, til 3005”. The internet isn’t the only theme explored throughout the album, as Gambino regularly sees himself waxing lyrically about the trappings and pitfalls of his newfound success and fame as he raps, “Man there’s a star bound to a body inside of me, 20 million degrees burn a man to his knees,” in “No Exit”. Similarly “The Party” is a stark, bleak outlook on the realities of fame, shedding light on the rapper’s recent social media outbursts.
There’s ample support on the album from a range of artists. The first of these being Chance the Rapper’s offering on “The Worst Guys” a somewhat strange, directionless track, half stereotypical rap brag, half introverted anxiety attack as Gambino delves into his sexual failures, “I need a minute cold water to the face, I couldn’t finish, got the uber from her place,” before the song descends into a Queen-esque guitar solo. It’s almost the rapper’s own rock opera moment, an idea reinforced by the intricate, impressive online screenplay. Rumoured long term girlfriend Jhené Aiko joins Glover on “Pink Toes”, an ironically romantic track which relies heavily on jazz organs and 8 bit hooks and has Gambino flowing about rainbows, sunshine and prom night. It listens like a 13 year old girl’s gif- heavy Tumblr, again showing how the young rapper has effectively and thoroughly explored the album’s theme of the internet in its entirety. It’s a clever tone when juxtaposed with Aiko’s ramblings on forgiven love, making for almost an internet age Romeo & Juliet. Ms Banks lends starkly different, unique vocals on “Earth: The Oldest Computer (The Last Night)” as she croons through the chorus. It’s an interesting song, with partly atypical Banks house beats, combined with space age keys, as Gambino warns, “3005. The year we fear, only God will survive.” All this before, it transcends into a danceable Flosstradamus-esque trap beat with Gambino chanting in despair, “She got that body, oh me oh my, send those pics GPOY.”
Overall, Because the Internet is at the height of relevancy, a truly modern album that examines modern human relationships within the ever invading influence of the world wide web and the trappings of fame. Thematically it’s a bold, powerful piece of work, replacing stereotypical rap jargon with fast thinking internet witticisms, ultimately creating a work of our time. It’s an ambitious album, at times, perhaps a little too much, as that signature flow often becomes lost amidst an orchestra of electronic noise. Childish Gambino has long struggled with the nature of artistry, this insecurity largely due to his other media projects. On “Bonfire” he famously raps about his continuous dismissal by critics as a gimmick, “Man why does every black actor gotta rap some?” If anything, Because the Internet, is that official stride from actor’s zany side project, to bonafide artist status. Through the combined use of cinema and music, Glover has effectively combined his strongest skills to create the first rap opera, an odyssey on the nature of fame and the music industry, perhaps best summarised by recent visuals, “Clapping for the Wrong Reasons”. Because the Internet is by no means a perfect album, but it does represent a solid transgression into experimentalism and a shedding of the often constricting thralls of comedy, marking an exciting new era for creativity in Gambino’s work .
Words: Charlie Jaco