all words: Marcus Dowling
all photos: Kevin Hulse
Donald Glover may be a supporting actor on top NBC sitcom “Community,” but as rapper Childish Gambino, he’s an Emmy deserving prime time player. Blending an obvious combination of current hip hop tropes we know – Lil Wayne the scatterbrained intellectual, Drake the impassioned, possibly fully emo dreamer and Kanye West the braggadocios yet flawed mega star, his nearing turn as rap royalty is one of the most unique stories to follow of hip hop’s history.
In fixing the flaws of his three inspirations, and audaciously interpreting the mundane questions of his own life through their eyes, he’s a genius. A sold out Fillmore Silver Spring watched hip hop as method acting on Tuesday night and didn’t even care. In meeting, then exceeding the notions of what it takes to be a rap celebrity, he mainstreams the mainstream and is deserving of superstar status.
Childish Gambino is the most unfair of performers, and backed by a tight ensemble including a drummer, keyboard player and violinist, he lets you in on his secret. Rapping about “writing shows with Tina Fey” is not to be overlooked. Neither is a constant stream of NBC related punchline flows including mentioning Steve Carell as “The Office’s” nebbish Michael Scott, and in his most popular slowly mainstreaming turn, famously cancelled program of yore “Freaks and Geeks.” Glover’s the prodigal son. Not an incarcerated, syrup-sipping, faux-singing skateboard rider like Weezy, not an unreasonably emo performer like Drizzy and not boisterously celebratory of succeeding in spite of raging only-child syndrome like Yeezy, he still embraces all of those concepts.
However in appearing slightly above his audience’s average-by-comparison lives, he’s both fully aspirational and to a crowd of 1500+ hand waving fanatics, completely appreciated. He writes television shows that are already beloved by millions, so crafting hip hop flows in the voice of an emcee obsessed with stylin’ on the world? It’s like a full scale attempt at Glover locating the voice for “Community’s” geeky jock Troy Barnes. We’ve never had a master thespian doing work by dropping mind-bending flows, so attention should absolutely be paid.
Glover brilliantly uses rap music to define himself. Hip hop’s power amplifies his multi-faceted creative voice. His fourth quarter release Camp (from which four tracks were debuted at the concert) should easily be one of the Christmas season’s heavy hitters. Gambino’s music sounds just like everything you’ve heard before, just cleaner. He’s a respectful Pat Boone, an interloper with swag, completely fascinating to watch dominate a crowd. When he mixes John Legend’s cover of Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” with Jamie XX’s remix, and flashes the words “John Legend’s Voice,” “Keep Clapping” and “keep on clapping” behind him on the big screen, it’s an amazing, fully realized hip hop moment. You’re in the search with Glover for Gambino, and helping him bring his creation even further into view, even closer to mainstream prominence.
Childish Gambino raps about his enormous penis, marveling at his own awesomeness, and punchlines describing the number of Asian women he adores mirroring the stereotypical student body of UCLA. You have to be as smart as you are talented to make people listen to that, care about such vapid and retreading material, and fully believe that you’re a superstar for doing so. Thus is the tale of the life of Donald Glover.