This is an article series that will take a look at how some successful comedians or comedic actors have tried to branch out in to music. But non-comedic music.
Donald Glover is best known as the character Troy Barnes on NBC’s Community, or “the black guy on Community” for people who don’t really watch Community much. Though Glover has been a sketch comic (with Derrick Comedy), a writer (The Daily Show, 30 ROCK), actor (Community, Mystery Team), and stand-up comic since the early 2000’s, he has been rapping under the moniker Childish Gambino (which he found using a Wu-Tang Clan name generator) and DJing under the moniker mcDJ for nearly as long.
Glover really began to be noticed for his rapping ability while he attended New York University (he graduated with a degree in dramatic writing in 2006). He was making videos with Derrick Comedy, performing with an improv team, Hammerkatz, at the UCB theatre, and attending school while he was rapping/releasing his first rap album, The Younger I Get (Oh, and he was an RA in his dorm). The release date on this album, which has since been disowned by Glover himself, is kind of sketchy. Some sources say it came out in 2002, while Chaz Kangas, a dude that Glover would freestyle and once-collaborate with on his first “official” album, says that the album must have been recorded and distributed between 2004-2005 simply based on the timing of the references made in the lyrics. Either way, it is almost impossible to find a copy because so few people have it, and Glover doesn’t want it released. Because it sounds like the ramblings of a “decrepit Drake.”
In many of Childish Gambino’s songs, he raps about how he’s wanted to be a rapper/taken seriously as a rapper since he was in school. He gave rapping a real shot with his first official album, Sick Boi, which was released in 2008. “Sick Boi” is also the name of his “clique,” which consists of his friends in Derrick Comedy, who are occasionally featured rappers on his first two albums, as well as other rapper friends. Before the release of Sick Boi, Glover had already written for or appeared on The Daily Show, Channel 101, Late Night With Conan O’Brien, 30 ROCK, Human Giant, and many online sketch videos. The dude kept busy.
Gambino’s next album, Poindexter, was released on September 17, 2009. Like his previous effort, it was released for free on the internet. Childish Gambino was even busier in 2010, releasing two mixtapes entitled I Am Just A Rapper and I Am Just A Rapper 2, both of which feature sampled or complete songs from other artists, which he raps over, as opposed to creating his own beats. On July 3rd, Culdesac, Gambino’s third album was released online. Gambino finally has found his own distinct, and natural-sounding voice by this point, and he sounds more natural than he does on his first two LPs or even on his two mixtapes. Culdesac is a great combination of hip-hop, indie rock, and R&B, which is especially enjoyable when combined with Glover’s serious and honest lyrics, even though they are composed with hilarious and highly creative wordplay. His lyrics often address the fact that he wants to be taken seriously as a rapper, even though he “talks white” and is best known for being a black comedian/hipster. He also frequently raps (and sometimes sings) about breakups, school bullies, goals, hard work, suicidal thoughts, vulgar jokes, and alcoholism.
Below is my favorite track from Culdesac, “Hero”. Warning: these tracks contain naughty language.
In the time Glover had recorded and released Culdesac, he had already left 30 ROCK as a writer and began acting as Troy Barnes on Community. He would soon start to be recognized as a stand-up comic thanks to a Comedy Central Presents as well as a stand-up tour. Childish “King of Similes” Gambino (a nickname I give him) released an EP (entitled EP) in March 2011. Thanks to Glover’s television appearances and his first music video for his song, “Freaks and Geeks,” EP quickly became Childish Gambino’s most popular album yet.
Cheezy (a nickname Childish Gambino goes by) released his newest, and first physical album, Camp, in November 2011 after signing with Glassnote Records. The album was met with mostly positive reviews and sold over 52,000 units in its first week. Camp is still packed with sharp word play and fun indie-rock beats, but many of its lyrics are darker than Gambino’s previous works. I personally think that Culdesac is a stronger album than Camp, but both albums, plus his three EPs are pretty fantastic, and I would recommend Gambino to anyone who might like hipsterish rap, nerdy rap, or punny rap. Go listen. Get Cheezy.