Donald Glover can easily be considered a modern-day Renaissance man, the man’s claim to fame was earned through his many talented abilities that include: actor, writer, producer, comedian, and on the music side being considered a talented rapper, singer, and songwriter. It’s been almost a decade since he decided to put his name into the Wu-Tang name generator and gave birth to the alter-ego of Childish Gambino. Childish Gambino seemed to be the perfect name for Glover when he first started out as childish encompasses the zany lines and pop culture references that found themselves in his raps while Gambino a reference to the crime family represented his serious conviction to the game. Since then the aspiring actor has produced seven mix-tapes, two EPs and three studio albums. With Gambino’s current album “Awaken My Love!” debuting No. 1 on Billboard’s R&B charts it seems strange like a strange place to hang it up since most would consider him to have finally broken into the mainstream.
“I sent a long text message to my mom and pop. I got the same speech when I left 30 Rock. My Mom like, “why you wanna leave a good job?”. My dad like “Do your thing, boy, don’t stop”.” – Childish Gambino “We Ain’t Them” Royalty mix-tape
This is not the first time and probably won’t be the last time Donald Glover has made headlines with a questionable decision resulting in leaving a successful project. Glover’s first controversial departure was when he decided to leave the writers’ table of NBC’s hit show at the time 30 Rock. While a risky move, it certainly paid off as Glover rose in status from behind the scenes to in front of the camera. Glover became part of the ensemble cast of an NBC fan-favorite Community. Glover being the shark that has to keep swimming forward that he is found that as when Community was reaching its final season Glover decided that he would not return. Glover had this to comment on his departure from the showing stating that:
“I think everything should have death clauses in them… I’m glad things end because it forces them to progress. It wasn’t like I was running away from it, I was just done with it” – Donald Glover
Donald Glover was again leaving a job that many would have found themselves complacent in but Glover being the highly ambitious individual he is had other plans. Glover rumors of leaving Community had initially had people assuming he was leaving to focus solely on the Childish Gambino persona but instead announced he was coming to FX to star in his own project based on his home called Atlanta. In the shows first season it gained high recognition as the show and Donald Glover himself won the Golden Globes for best show and best actor in a TV comedy or musical.
While all of this upward mobility was occurring, Glover had also taken the time to continue pushing the envelope with his rapper alter-ego Childish Gambino. While hard to image now from the beginning Childish Gambino was critically panned. Childish Gambino first mix-tapes often featured Glover alongside some friends and fellow comedians such as Derrick Comedy member D.C. Pierson coming together to rap some ridiculous yet clever lyrics for what appears to be mostly for the pure enjoyment of it. It appears that back then that Glover was not comfortable using his own voice attempted to fluctuate his voice in a nasally fashion drawing him comparisons to Lil’ Wayne and having it be a huge point of criticism.
Glover eventually produced his first album Camp in 2011 to mixed reviews. I remember around this time I first heard his hit song “Heartbeat” on the radio and I admired the raw emotion it encased making it noticeable unique. However, his tough critics slammed heavy with Forbes writer Leor Galil who had this to say about it, reducing it to:
“a laundry list of personal pain and some sharply conflicting egotistical boasting, all underscored by an endless stream of forced pop culture references”
The harsh criticism is excessive when Galil continues to diminish Gambino for laying verses over popular tracks which is a common practice in the music industry and lessens his argument for “forced pop culture references” with an example that seems a bit like a nitpick.
“ like one “memorable” lyric from “Bonfire”: “‘You’re my favorite rapper now,’ Yeah, dude, I better be / Or you can f***** kiss my a**, Human Centipede.” (This line is also an excellent example of Glover’s nonsense: While straining to reference the infamous horror movie, he overlooks its “medical accuracy” as those involved in the grotesque chain don’t have the physical ability to kiss because the villain in the first film removes the lips of those in the centipede)” -Leor Galil
I feel like with that same logic, you should point out anytime someone uses personification and point out that that can’t happen because that’s an object not a person. To be fair Galil does make some fair criticism of the Camp album and if you’re interested in the history of Glover’s criticism he’s a good place to start. Personally, while Camp might not be as advanced as his later work but was the best storytelling album that creates a fun, honest represent of Glover struggling but rising to the top.
Fast-forward to now and Childish Gambino is no-longer the niche market rapper for the white kids and black nerds but something that increasingly more people got behind. Childish Gambino had in a sense proven the haters wrong and has certainly earned his place so why stop and announce at the 2017 Governors Ball Music Festival that he’s coming for one last album. To put it simple, I believe Glover has outgrown the persona. Childish Gambino has always been a personal outlet for Glover who often acknowledged his critics and haters, shared life experiences, feelings, emotions, and experimented with different sounds. From the very beginning he stood by the fact that he’s different, and in doing so he became something special. Childish Gambino was a project for Glover to express himself honestly and in the process, gain confidence in his craft. Glover is once again taking off to reach new heights as his career opportunities are starting to stack-up. Glover seems very proud in continuing Atlanta but also has found himself invited to the adults table appearing in Spider-Man: Homecoming a nod to his bid for Spider-Man himself and also will be taking up the iconic roles of Lando Calrissian and Simba. It was apparent that Glover took being Childish Gambino very seriously, responding to suggestions that he tries a more comical approach to his rap career. In the song, “The Last” Gambino responds to these suggestions as so:
“People tell me I should spit under Donald Glover, But I try to keep my real name undercover…. I rap about my life not I’m On A Boat. ‘Cause this joke rap shit’s gotten out of hand, Only ones who do it well’s Lonely Island… Leave the joke raps alone, man, I’m wokin’ here” – Childish Gambino “The Last” Culdesac
Childish Gambino is just not Childish anymore and has transcended the persona that Donald Glover cares enough for to not lose touch with what truly inspired him to prosper in the first place. Glover was interviewed in which he gave this to explain his retirement of the persona:
“You know, I like it when something’s good and when it comes back there’s a reason to come back, there’s a reason to do that Like I feel like there’s gotta be a reason to do things and I always had a reason to be punk… Being punk just always felt really good to me and we always looked at ‘Atlanta’ as a punk show and I feel like the direction I would go with Childish Gambino wouldn’t be punk anymore.
Glover seems aware of his maturity and as always is trying to keep his passion from getting stale by trying new projects and elevating himself in the process. Donald Glover is a different type of celebrity, and while we must wait in anticipation for his final run as Childish Gambino I think with the roles he’s received is some indication that his presence in pop culture is not disappearing anytime soon.
“If anything ever happens, want you to know this, I always took the time to smell the roses. And wherever I am, I am doin’ fine, I’m here for a good, not a long, time.” – Childish Gambino “The Last” Culdesac