My approach to writing each post in Weekly Music Commentary has remained consistent throughout seven years. The people closest to me do have an effect on how I write. I can’t escape that fact. I don’t necessarily write by any set of rules, but there are some things that always seem to gauge my focus. If you are a hip hop artist and my mother has heard of you, it proves you have made your way to mainstream music. If you are a hip hop artist and my wife has heard of you, it proves you have transcended beyond the hip hop community and music industry. Of course, both scenarios have played out over the years of writing Weekly Music Commentary. However, this weeks’ featured artist might be the most interesting of the bunch. This week I chose to feature Childish Gambino.
Like so many other entertainers, Childish Gambino has a career with layers. I say that because he is more than only a hip hop artist. He is also an actor, writer, producer and comedian. All aspects of his entertainment career took off at the same time. In order to analyze his immense talent, we should look at his background.
Donald McKinley Glover (He performs as a stage artist under the stage name Childish Gambino, and as a disc jockey, he performs under the name mcDJ) was born September 25, 1983 at Edwards Air Force Base and raised in Stone Mountain, Georgia. His mother, Beverly is a retired daycare provider, and his father, Donald Sr., is a retired postal worker. He attended DeKalb School of the Arts and was voted “Most Likely to Write for The Simpsons” in his high school yearbook. Glover graduated from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts with a degree in dramatic writing in 2006.
With his background it certainly appears that Glover would go on to a career in television or motion picture script writing. That’s exactly what happened. n 2006, Glover was contacted by David Miner, to whom he sent writing samples including a spec script that he had written for The Simpsons. Miner and Tina Fey were impressed by Glover’s work and invited him to become a writer for the NBC series 30 Rock. Glover was a writer for 30 Rock from 2006 to 2009, where he also had occasional cameo appearances. He was presented the Writers Guild of America Award for Best Comedy Series at the February 2009 ceremony for his work on the third season.
While his career as television writer and actor moved into high gear, Glover’s music career was beginning to take shape as well. He released two independent albums, Sick Boi in 2008 and Poindexter in 2009. A pair of mixtapes, titled I Am Just a Rapper and I Am Just A Rapper 2 were released, in close succession in 2010. Another album, Culdesac, was set to be released on July 2, 2010, but a couple of last-minute additions caused the album to be delayed for a day. The album was made available on July 3. Glover has stated in interviews that on Sick Boi and Poindexter he felt he had to hide behind gimmicks, such as pink hoodies, but with his subsequent projects, he has touched on more personal subject matter, including family, schoolyard bullying, troubled romantic relationships, suicidal thoughts, and alcoholism.
Almost as interesting as his career path, is the way he came to choose his stage name Childish Gambino. He told Jimmy Fallon back in 2011, he got it from the Wu Tang name generator during his sophomore year of college. “We were all hanging out, chilling and drinking and then we were like, “oh, Wu-Tang name generator, let’s put our name in.” And we’re putting them all in, and they’re all funny and stuff, and then mine came up and I was like, ‘you guys, it’s not funny anymore. This is something big.’ I just really liked it.”
Glover became known to a wider audience with the release of the NBC comedy series Community on September 17, 2009 as the character Troy Barnes, a former high school star quarterback who quickly abandons his former jock mentality and embraces his nerdy, childish side as the result of his friendship with Abed Nadir (played by Danny Pudi). Glover left the show during the fifth season, appearing in only five episodes, as his character was written off by accepting an offer to sail around the world as a condition of inheriting $14.3 million worth of stock, as left to him by the character Pierce Hawthorne (played by Chevy Chase).
Most of Glover’s work on the show Community came at the same time he was well-known to hip hop fans as Childish Gambino. On May 4, 2011, in an interview with TheHipHopUpdate, Glover revealed that he was working on an LP, to be released in September. On August 20, 2011, at the Los Angeles Rock The Bells concert, he gave an interview to AllHipHop.com, and he announced to the crowd that he had signed with Glassnote Records. On September 17, 2011, his first official single, “Bonfire”, was released. This would later become part of the album Camp.
In December of last year, Childish Gambino released his third album with Glassnote records titled Awaken, My Love! The album has received positive reviews from various writers. Count me as one of them as I enjoyed the entire album. It certainly is one that I will be listening to again and again. It was not what I expected. In fact, I’m not sure what I expected. Nevertheless, the album is a pleasant listening experience. I really liked what Dan Bogosian from The A.V. Club wrote about Awaken, My Love! “Is Childish Gambino suddenly the new Prince, a virtuoso multi-instrumentalist always ready to keep the world an arm’s length away from knowing what he’s thinking? Is he D’Angelo, a soul god fighting against his first image with all-time great music? No. He is Donald Glover, a man who can perform and write comedy, act in drama, and drop a truly wonderful album on short notice with all the influences and instructions spelled out.”
Last month Glover announced that Awaken, My Love! will be the last Childish Gambino album. “There’s nothing worse than, like, a third sequel, like, a third movie and we’re like, ‘again?'” Glover told the Huffington Post. “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.”
Maybe the thirty-three year old multi-tasker is moving on because Childish Gambino finally grew up. We’ll see!