By Adam Theisen, Daily Arts Writer
Published December 10, 2013
Donald Glover is not supposed to make a record like this. The rapper-actor-comedian who goes by the stage name Childish Gambino has proven himself comically on the sitcom “Community” and talented enough to pull off joke-heavy charismatic rap songs, but Because the Internet is a stylistic departure from all of his previous work. The album sounds like more of a therapy session than any attempt at commercial success and, while intriguing at times, it’s bound to alienate the majority of Gambino’s fans.
Because the Internet
Because the Internet begins innocently enough with “Crawl,” the album’s second track, which shows off some dark and chopped-up, dubstep-influenced production tricks, but still features confident and clever verses from Gambino. However, the record quickly drops completely out of the mainstream. Not only are Gambino’s beats experimental, but he also plays around with plenty of flows and voices — going from disinterested and laid-back to tough-guy posturing to syrupy singing, often within a single track. It’ll be up to his fans to decide if this short-attention-span style is idiosyncratic or just plain weird.
Calling Because the Internet a hip-hop album doesn’t even begin to explain what it’s trying to be. Songs like “Sweatpants” are perfect arenas for Gambino’s lyrical dexterity and cleverness, and “3005” would’ve been a great hit single for Drake; but these are the exceptions, the songs that stick out in a record built more around dream-like ambiance. The often aimless, tossed-off mood coupled with the funhouse of changing sounds imply that the album is meant as a manifestation of Gambino’s psyche. The problem, though, is that, while many of these songs may be meaningful to Donald Glover, the rest of us — without any sort of context — are left confused and disinterested. Gambino makes occasional attempts at letting us know how he feels, but most of these are vague and unarticulated.
Because the Internet is most frustrating in its middle, when the pop hits end and the songs become even more self-indulgent. Gambino’s musical talent jumps out at the most surprising moments (the end of interlude “The Party” suddenly features an excellent, angry and intense verse), but even the production becomes mostly dull here, lacking any feeling or surprises. Childish Gambino wants to be an enigma, but on this record, he’s usually not interesting enough to achieve that kind of mystique.
The ambition of this experimental album is admirable, though, and encouraging enough to foretell a more refined next effort for Gambino — hopefully one in which he focuses much more on what he actually wants to communicate. Most of these promising signs are located on the back stretch of Because the Internet. “Flight of The Navigator” begins with frustrating and pretentious computerized vocals but soon transforms into probably Gambino’s most vulnerable and personal song. It’s telling that Gambino seems to become much more direct and personal when he stops rapping. The only real verses on the last third of the album come in the final track, in which his familiar, quotable style of rapping is juxtaposed with Gambino’s softer inner thoughts, ringing hollow in comparison.
Because the Internet raises a million questions about Donald Glover. Is he completely done with being an artist who makes people laugh? Does he even know who he is or who he wants to be? Is this all an act, or does he actually believe in the weirdness of this album? Does that even matter? The only thing for certain is that Because the Internet is Childish Gambino’s world. Chance The Rapper and Macklemore are both credited with features on the album, but they’re impossible to recognize on their tracks. There’s no room for them in Donald Glover’s head. Approached as a completely personal effort, an attempt by Childish Gambino to make music purely for himself, Because the Internet will probably be ridiculed by many, identified with and defended by some and, hopefully, given a thorough listen by Donald Glover’s psychiatrist.