Glover explains social absence

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When you have talent like Donald Glover’s, it becomes fairly difficult to roam the world unnoticed.

From YouTube sketches he wishes people would forget about and writing for “30 Rock” to starring in “Community” and releasing a universally praised EP and debut, unless of course you wrote for Pitchfork, Glover had done it all minus his first stand-up special – then Comedy Central took care of that – in 2010. So where exactly was Glover to go from there?

In a saddening but ultimately curious turn of events. Glover announced his intentions to part ways with the cast of “Community” in order to focus more intently on creating music under the now almost household name, Childish Gambino. This is roughly the time that Donald Glover fell off the map.

Interestingly enough in conjunction with the “experience,” Childish Gambino stuck to a strict regimen during the recording process, including waking up early to hit the studio, staying away from social networking sites and not wearing shoes. I could go on about the odd circumstances surrounding the release of Childish Gambino’s latest LP, but none of that matters now. What matters is the sheer amount of exponential growth “Because the Internet” shows in not only style but skill, as well as the way it solidifies Gambino’s place among the most interesting figures in hip-hop today.

Honestly, it’s hard to pinpoint what’s more impressive, the diversity displayed throughout “Because the Internet” or the way it never strays to form a cohesive unit. From the aggressive samples that plague tracks like “Crawl” and “Worldstar” to Drake-channeling R&B offerings like “Telegraph Ave.” Gambino never seems to stay in one place for too long while remaining consistently well-rounded. Gone are the punchline-heavy verses and string sections, in their place a newfound sense of confidence.

Oftentimes, Glover’s words sound calm and composed (“Crawl,” “Shadows”); sometimes barely above a whisper while never really losing their sting. Not surprisingly, the record is riddled with references to the Internet.

A lot of the production choices we hear throughout “Because the Internet” seem to be inspired by Odd Future, but all the while remaining refreshingly original. Even throughout the guts and the grime, each glance of sunshine spotted throughout the album is guaranteed to be played over as some of its finest moments.

“The Worst Guys” ushers you into a beautiful midsection sequence starting with the subtle but uniquely recognizable vocals of Chance the Rapper.

Once album highlight “Shadows” kicks off with Glover’s best vocal performance to date, you’re strapped in for a ride that rivals even songs from Frank Ocean’s “Channel Orange.” Hard-hitting wordplay over the plucking of soft guitars suddenly cuts out, leaving the listener in a still pleasant but slightly unsettling moment that eventually explodes a swirling descent into emotion only matched by album’s artwork.

While it stands as one of the most distinctive of the genre you’ll hear this year, the record’s messy final third does begin to crumble starting with the ambient “Flight of the Navigator.” “Zealots of Stockholm (Free Information)” fails to be as innovative as it hopes, and the “experience” soon begins to just feel self-indulgent.

Parts of “Because the Internet” feel as though you’ve stumbled into a hip-hop themed carnival, but without the posse of insane clowns. Perhaps this uncomfortable conclusion is dependent upon its accompanying screenplay, but while it doesn’t necessarily bring down the record as a whole, it will make you appreciate and want to revisit the album’s stellar first half.

Even when Glover is conquering the trap beat of “Worldstar,” the track eventually elevates into the same kind of mind-bending, acid-jazz instrumental that defined Tyler the Creator’s “Goblin.” The four interludes found throughout the record are really neither here nor there, sometimes foreshadowing upcoming melodies but mostly just there as transitions to the songs.

Luckily, even after a disturbed Glover goes off the deep end during the record’s final cuts, he just as easily pulls it all back together in the satisfying conclusion that is “Life: The Biggest Troll.” Combining elements seemingly collected throughout “Because the Internet,” Gambino shows off his development against one of the most easygoing beats on the record, and just when it feels like Gambino is making the progress you’re constantly wishing for him, “Because the Internet” closes with Glover begging for you to help him.

And then we find ourselves confronted with silence. It feels like watching a movie and knowing something the characters don’t. Is this what separates an album from an experience? Does that feeling the record leaves long after it ends prove to us that Gambino is rising in the ranks of today’s independent hip-hop stardom?

I was disappointed when Glover dropped the strings from Camp. I thoroughly missed the punchlines throughout “Royalty,” and when it was confirmed that this record would be titled “Because the Internet,” I was unfortunately close to writing this album off. But none of that matters now, because this longing to press play again has to count for something.

 

AARON MOOK

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