Where to begin? There has been no shortage of hype surrounding Because The Internet, the latest album from hip-hop artist Childish Gambino (aka Donald Glover). He caught the attention of many with his 2011 album Camp, but others may know him as Troy Barnes from NBC’s Community or as a writer on the hit comedy show 30 Rock. Other than his acting, Glover kept fairly quiet for a long time, but he recently wrote, produced and released the short film Clapping for the Wrong Reasons, showing a rather bleak emotional side to him that lurked behind the cover of comedy and laughter.
This was emphasised by a series of handwritten notes that he posted to Instagram where he admitted his fears of not knowing what the future holds, of seeing loved ones die, of not being good enough for people, of not being good enough for himself. He shares that he’s been unwell for the last year, he’s seen too many people die and has felt helpless. Gambino quietly released cryptic teaser videos and tracks from the upcoming album via Twitter and Instagram in the run up to its release, and even before hearing it in full it was clear that the themes of fear, loneliness and acceptance that have been troubling Glover would be echoed in his new album. Little did we know the true depth and extent of this project, which it turns out, is so much more than just an album.
While everyone was trying to make sense of the videos and cryptic messages Glover had been sharing on his website and on Twitter, he had been hard at work. Before the Because The Internet‘s release, Glover tweeted a link to a website, becausetheinter.net. There, users were met with a full screenplay, written by Glover, accompanied by the music from the album (including notes as to when it should be played) and video clips. The tracks tie in perfectly with the script, which itself has links to Glover’s real life behaviour, right down to the cryptic phrase ‘Roscoe’s Wetsuit’ that he had been using to create a buzz surrounding his upcoming project. Even the activities that are described in the screenplay mirror what Glover has been posting on Twitter and Instagram, and the video clips have left everybody wondering whether a full film will ever be revealed. There is so much to read into with Because The Internet, some of the characters mentioned even having their own Twitter accounts and Tumblr pages, and it is worth investigating and becoming absorbed in.
Back to the album – although the lyrical content and mood of the tracks are quite dissimilar to Gambino’s previous work, the music is better than ever. He has never been one to stick to a single type of music and Because The Internet sees him explore all kinds of instrumentations, textures and styles, ranging from the big aggressive beat of trap-infused ‘WORLDSTAR’ to the beautifully smooth soul/R&B sound of ‘Shadows’. Childish has often suffered from being compared to other artists, most notably Kanye West, with Camp bearing many close resemblances to Kanye’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. It’s not an easy comparison to escape when their styles are so similar, and upon first impression, Because The Internet falls into similar pitfalls, being somewhat comparable to Kanye’s latest album Yeezus. However, while Kanye’s latest release was incredibly abrasive, Glover’s draws influence from a wider variety of sources (with some tracks sounding more like something you’d hear from Frank Ocean) to create an album that is much more satisfying and comfortable to listen to.
When it was announced that the album would feature Chance The Rapper (pictured as ‘Fam’ from the screenplay, with Glover as ‘The Boy’ on the right), Azealia Banks and Jhene Aiko (Naomi), many of people’s hopes were suddenly raised. Unfortunately, Chance The Rapper’s appearance on ‘The Worst Guys’ is the most disappointingly small amount of input from a featuring artist since David Bowie on Arcade Fire’s ‘Reflektor’, with Chance appearing for all of five words. It’s such a shame considering that Chance is arguably the best breakthrough hip-hop artist of the year, and the last collaboration between the pair resulted in the fantastic ‘Favourite Song’ on Chance’s Acid Rap mixtape.
The album tells the story and progression of ‘The Boy’, a rich kid who lives alone in his mansion surrounded by his fake friends. While on the surface this is a brilliant album, when you look beyond that and dig deeper you will discover a whole world that can be explored. However, those fond of Donald’s nerdy references and award-winning wit won’t be disappointed with this album, as he continues to joke around about things like Star Wars and Aunt May (possibly in reference to the internet campaign for Donald Glover to be the next Spider-Man). The album is also littered with samples, ranging from the fictional including a clip of The Little Mermaid to real life occurrences, such as phonecalls and the sound of Gambino putting his “sneakers in the trunk” that synchronise with the screenplay.
The album seems to deal with emotion in the same way that Donald does himself, swinging between moments of aggression, calm and bliss. In ‘The Party’ we hear one of these sudden mood swings in action, when a track that sees Gambino rapping with speed and intent over a grinding synth line laced with the sounds of party goers makes a sudden U-turn, with Glover demanding that people “get the fuck out” of his house. Following on from everyone being kicked out of ‘The Party’ we hear ‘No Exit’, which is Gambino’s insomnia and his waking nightmare as he addresses his isolation and how his difficult personality can end up murdering his relationships. “Can’t sleep, 3am, stare at the ceilin’, muder the feelin’, spider crawl in the corner, brown recluse, so appropriate”.
In ‘Pink Toes’ we hear Gambino singing about the glamorous life of “rainbows” and “sunshine” led by ‘The Boy’, now a drug dealer, and the girl (Jhene Aiko/Naomi) who stays by him anyway. The disappointment from Chance The Rapper’s small contribution to the album is more than made up for by Jhene Aiko’s beautiful verse, together with Gambino’s falsetto vocals, which really makes for a happy and calming track that shines out from the darkness that covers much if the album.
It’s clear that Donald has been through some tough times recently that have left him feeling lost and alone (admitting on ‘Life: The Biggest Troll’ that “I don’t know who I am any more”), and this is entirely reflected in Because The Internet. Whereas Camp felt a bit like a collection of singles rather than an album, Because The Internet is a fully-constructed experience with themes of mood-swings, loneliness and isolation lingering over all of the tracks. This might not be the fun-loving Gambino that we once knew, but why make music that isn’t honest? This isn’t just an album, this is Childish Gambino baring his life and soul to the world.
PS. If you want to explore Donald’s life even further, you should visit his website, where you’ll find a number of pages that form a collection of snippets that give insight into Donald’s mind and surroundings, including audio clips and video footage of Because The Internet being made, screenshots of text messages with quotes from Pablo Neruda, Tweets from fans and haters, an assortment of pictures and photos, words of wisdom from Glover, and video clips from Adventure Time and other kids’ TV shows.