Release Date: Nov 15, 2011
Record label: Glass Note
Genre(s): Rap, Pop/Rock, Alternative Rap, Underground Rap
Man, why does every black actor have to rap some? / I don’t know – all I know is I’m the best one Those lines from Childish Gambino’s “Bonfire,” the first single off of his first release on Glassnote, perfectly exemplify one-half of Donald Glover’s rap persona. He’s cocky, arrogant and knows he’s about to break out of this stratosphere. The other half, however, is more humble and still angry and insecure about events that transpired in his life.
So the joke goes like this: Actor/comedian Donald Glover (you know, Troy Barnes from Community) got it in his head one day that he wanted to be a rapper. Cue a boatload of EPs, mixtapes, and random song drops, and now Glover (going by the nom de rhyme Childish Gambino) has dropped his debut album, Camp, on Glassnote Records, the home to big-name acts Mumford & Sons, Phoenix, and The Temper Trap. Here’s the punchline, though: The joke’s actually on us.
In the time before this wonderful album named Camp existed, the “actors who rap” proposition would have been all red flags. Brian Austin Green, Mr. T, Joaquin Phoenix, and many others are on the “cons” list, while the “pros” would have been Drake (barely counts, unless Degrassi: The Next Generation was your thing) and maybe AVN award-winner Dirt Nasty.
On the handclap-drowned “Hold You Down” (you better really like handclaps, shit abounds throughout Camp—Donald Glover’s debut full-length as Childish Gambino), the actor/MC/producer asserts his Renaissance Man intentions: “I won’t stop until they say James Franco is the white Donald Glover.” This he says exactly as Kanye would. Later, Glover adopts Lil Wayne’s impish flow, blurting, “You can fucking kiss my ass / Human centipede.” The similarity’s downright plagiaristic. Elsewhere, tracks bear more Yeezy drawl (“Sunrise”; Daft Punk scuzz on “Heartbeat”), or bare Tyler nose-thumbing (“Backpackers”), or Drake’s doctored swoon (the saccharine “Kids (Keep Up)”; “L.E.S.”).
On Watch the Throne, Jay-Z and Kanye West released a sprawling, flawed attempt at an epic that would—in theory—fulfill both their desires to make stadium-filling hip-hop that spoke about the black experience in America in 2011, while still managing to get in the occasional bar about how awesome/not awesome it was to be Kanye West and Jay-Z. While Watch the Throne was fun at times, be honest—there aren’t more than one or two tracks from that album you still listen to on even a weekly basis. It ended up ringing false with both artists, and proved largely forgettable.
At first, the notion that Childish Gambino is the rapper persona for comedian/actor Donald Glover seems more like a bit of trivia than a compelling layer to his latest album,and first full-length commecial release, CAMP. But as you go, it's that kind of blurring of identity that shapes the entire record. It's hilarious in places, but it's not a joke record.
Childish Gambino :: CampGlassnote RecordsAuthor: Pete T.Actor Donald Glover raps as Childish Gambino, a moniker tellingly spawned through a Wu-Tang name generator. Given his stage name and role on NBC's "Community," it's easy to expect comedic parody rap, and while his concepts and punchlines incorporate a heavy dose of humor, the generalizations end there. Glover's quick wit is more frequently lent to deep confessionals, and the bulk of "Camp" comprises an examination of a conflicted psyche and the circumstances which led to its development.
Fans of US TV comedy might be more familiar with Childish Gambino as actor/comedian Donald Glover, currently starring in the series Community. Glover has written scripts for 30 Rock, a job given to him by comedy darling Tina Fey. When rumours circulated last year that he was auditioning for the part of Spider-Man, a Twitter campaign to get him in the red-and-black spandex went viral.
In spite of his emerging status as alternative hero, after his tireless work as a TV writer/actor/producer and now rapper, Donald Glover is vulnerable. Beneath his hilarious one-liner put-downs and belted-out braggadocio he’s got a lot to prove on Camp, tackling issues of race, love, and his family’s transition from poverty to prosperity. There are no guest spots – this is Glover intimately mapping out his personality as completely as possible, warts and all.
Donald Glover's day job is as an actor and comedian, starring alongside Chevy Chase in the cult US sitcom Community. By night he's both the rapper Childish Gambino and, it seems from this album, a part-time Kanye West impersonator. In a tale of the tape between Glover and West, Glover wins on the jokes. As a Hollywood star he's "the only white rapper who's allowed to say the N word", while a glance at Rihanna's backside gives him "20/20 hindsight".
If you buy only one hip-hop album this year, I'm guessing it'll be Camp. The album maintains some of the overweening humor of Donald Glover's sitcom "Community", but Glover's exaggerated, cartoonish flow and overblown pop-rap production are enough to make Camp one of the most uniquely unlikable rap records of this year (and most others). What's worse is how he uses heavy topics like race, masculinity, relationships, street cred, and "real hip-hop" as props to construct a false outsider persona.
Actor-turned-rapper’s studio debut doesn’t quite convince. Ele Beattie 2011 "I'd get you MTV if I could, man / But Pitchfork only likes rappers who are crazy or hood, man," observes Childish Gambino, accurately, on his debut studio LP. And it's a shame, because despite momentary outbursts of written-to-shock X-rated verses tarnishing women or haters, and a memory of growing-up listening to Notorious B.I.G.'s aspirational get-out-the-ghetto anthem Sky's the Limit, Camp is an open letter declaring that this self-confessed "nerdy ass black kid" and "well-spoken token" is an MC who is neither crazy nor hood.
Better known as Troy Barnes on the NBC sitcom Community, comedian Donald Glover has been cultivating his hip-hop alter ego, Childish Gambino, for the past four years, taking the Odd Future approach to music—he's self-released a number of full-lengths, EPs and mixtapes for free download, winning over thousands of people along the way. Unlike the Los Angeles horrorcore troupe, though, Childish Gambino's music is far classier, forward-thinking and pop-minded, with Glover's raps littered with just as many nerdy pop-culture references as heart-wrenching confessions or acts of sexual depravity. A bulk of Camp finds the MC diving into his id; "You See Me," "Bonfire" and "Backpackers" are vicious, with grimey beats and rhymes that effectively dismantle haters while also hyping Glover up as a hip-hop kingpin who sleeps with whoever he wants and is recognized wherever he goes.
It took a while, but people—listeners, media, peers—are finally realizing that Childish Gambino isn’t a joke or a shtick. Why Gambino, the rap moniker of actor/comedian/writer Donald Glover, has to fight this rep should be no surprise. Too frequently, anyone with some semblance of spotlight tries to spit (Justin Bieber, Vinny from Jersey Shore, Spencer Pratt and too many more), and the results are usually abysmal.