September 23, 2011

Tosten Burks has never worn a skinny red zip up sweatshirt, but he is a fan of a nice cardigan.

Donald Glover is a comedian. Childish Gambino is a rapper. Glover has paved a dichotomy for himself in the entertainment industry, dividing his music career from his comic career. If there truly exists a chasm of character though, it’s weird then that his music is so comic.

Basically, it never made much sense to me why Glover felt the need for an alter ego in the first place. He raps about himself. Childish Gambino IS post-Drake rap, music that is not just authentic, but revels in its authenticity. It eschews gangsterism for a completely different type of escapism, his actual life. Donald Glover doesn’t have hood tales to tell, so rather than spin some, he just talks about what he actually knows. Fame. Girls. Comic books. Girls.

It’s endearing. It’s also often hilarious.

Gambino (which continues to feel weirder and weirder to type in a discussion of music that is so obviously Donald Glover) produces punchline rap in the same way that he produced punchlines for 30 Rock straight out of NYU — where he wrote punchlines for his Derrick Comedy troupe, and in the same way that he writes punchlines for his stand up. Here are some other things that Donald Glover’s punchline rap is similar to: Lil Wayne, Big Sean, Drake, The Diplomats…

Which is why it is so confusing to continue to see all the typical critiques of Gambino: that he’s too white, that he’s too nerdy, or that he’s too cuddly. It’s all risen again in backlash to his most recent song “Bonfire,” off his upcoming November EP “Camp.”

Yes, he’s a blerd, and yes, he embraces the fact that a major portion of his audience is white. But then again, isn’t a major portion of most of hip hop’s audience white at this point? And is there really that big of a gap between Glover saying “I’m a beast, bitch, Gir, Invader Zim” or “Hanging in the islands, looking for Earl like ToeJam” and Doom and DangerMouse making an album that samples Adult Swim cartoons? Also, cuddly? On “Camp,” he actually says “Move white girls, like there’s coke up my asscrack.”

All of which isn’t to say that there are no legitimate critiques of Childish Gambino rap music. It just seems like those critiques should more closely resemble those heaped on Big Sean. Their rhyming abilities are very singular, seemingly incapable of breaking free from set-up/punchline, set-up/punchline monotony.

Childish Gambino stands out though. His set-up/punchline monotony is monotonously witty as shit. And rightfully so, set-up/punchline is Glover’s profession. “I put my soul on the track, like a shoe did” is downright silly, but it’s also a quadruple entendre. Can’t a quadruple entendre be enjoyed in its silliness, or even because of its silliness?

The whole point being that if you can enjoy unbridled, zany-ass era Weezy, there’s no reason to criticize Gambino for being nothing more than punchlines. “Bonfire” does recall a certain A-Milli-ness after all, with its dedication to raw simplicity, nothing more than a tight, tough vocal loop, some drums, and a bass drop that comes in and out like a boxing match, pounding and resting, pounding and resting, all ridden by an unbridled, amused voice of braggadocio.

It’s not joke rap, but it is humorous. Donald Glover raps about his real life, but ironically enough, the hurdle to enjoying it may be to not take it so seriously.

MP3: Childish Gambino-“Bonfire”
ZIP: Childish Gambino-I Am Just a Rapper

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