Childish Gambino is the rap alias of the comedian and writer Donald Glover; Because the Internet follows up his 2011 album Camp and his previous six mixtapes. I for one was excited for the release of this album. It was coming highly anticipated as the buzz and potential around Childish Gambino has grown incredibly over the last couple of years. So it saddens me to state that Because The Internet sounds like nothing more than a talented guy reciting erratic ideas and fragmented phrases.
The production, by himself and accomplice Ludwig Goransson, sounds noisy, and not in the good way. Their apparent intention was to combine every genre of music ever made, all this often being in the same song. Compare it to the stream of consciousness Eminem released in The Marshall Mathers LP 2, and it’s clear for all to see that Gambino has a very long ladder to climb.
As these irregular 19 tracks unfold, throwing up disengaged references, everything from Friends to WorldStarHipHop, the main impression that lasts with me is there seems to be some sort of internal unease between the Donald Glover, (who has written wisecracks for Community and 30 Rock) and his ambitions to be accepted as a seriously genuine rapper; the parallel between both leave a lot to be desired.
An example. His rap hooks are uninteresting and unoriginal, where his comedy writing is sharp; Sweatpants airs out a fatigued “all she wanna do is Bangkok / Bang cock” barb before slipping back into dated hashtag-fad new age territory. The frustrating thing with Gambino in a rappers sense is that technically, he can spit syllables in a cypher-worthy fashion, and has the potential, on his day, to go head to head with the who’s who of rap. One thing is blatantly obvious though; he’s trying way too hard to impress. He sees the Childish Gambino persona as some sort of gifted smart-ass, but writing rap-referential quips for sketch shows and popular comedies requires an entirely different skill set than creating songs that even his most devout fans can endure.
The only feeling I seem to have when listening to Because the Internet is that it elicits the uncontrollable urge to skip to the next song, in the hope that things couldn’t get any more disappointing. But then they do, beginning with Crawl, and volleying with the psychedelic music of The Worst Guys and Zealots of Stockholm (Free Information), which sounds like Glover has inadvertently locked himself in an unworldly abyss and tried to make as much loud noise as possible.
As the album draws to a close, the rapper ponders the question “Where’s the line between Donny G and Gambino?”, but it’s unclear whether this is meant as a genuine identity crisis or a middle finger to critics. Maybe the entire album is a mockery of itself, a grand finale joke critiquing the all-conquering rise of Internet culture by parodying its overwhelming randomness.
Whatever it is, though, someone forgot to pass on the memo to Gambino/Glover that he was recording an album, and not just sounding off a bunch of one liners; his audiences are left entertained, but his listeners are left wanting.