Childish Gambino - Because The Internet

Posted December 9, 2013

Community star-turned-rap buzzmaker Childish Gambino has unleashed his latest studio album, Because the Internet.

The artist's third full-length in total, it directly follows 2011's critically-acclaimed Camp LP. Included among its 19 original tracks is Booth-approved lead single "3005." Azealia Banks, Chance The Rapper and Jhené Aiko make guest appearances throughout the set, which features beats by Christian Rich, Ludwig Goransson and Stefan Ponce, as well as boardwork by Gambino himself.

Because the Internet is now available via Glassnote Records and is currently streaming via RefinedHype.

Because The Internet Album Review

Childish Gambino, the rapping alter-ego of actor/ comedian/ writer/ singer/ producer/ all-around-entertainment maven Donald Glover, is a product of the internet. “So what?” you may be asking yourself. “Every rapper is a product of the internet now.” That may be a bit hyperbolic, but it isn’t far from the truth. The reason Gambino is different is because he was a successful actor on NBC’s 30 Rock and Community before his mixtapes ever started catching fire online. The number of actors who have walked down a similar career path can be counted on one hand even if you are missing a few fingers. There’s Gambino and then there’s Drake. That’s pretty much it. Both were working actors who parlayed their industry connections and fame into avenues for developing their hip-hop careers, and both used the Internet to connect with the old fans and win over the skeptics. Drake’s former life as a wheelchair bound high-schooler on the melodramatic Degrassi seems a distant, far-off past when compared to the globetrotting rap superstar persona he represents today. On the other hand, Donald Glover was a rising star in comedy whose early hip-hop releases were noted for their clever wordplay, jokes, and extended metaphors.

Gambino’s second album, Because the Internet, continues the introspective, even depressed, assessment of his life that has been notable on his last few releases. Social media and the Internet may have allowed Gambino to flourish, but they also seem to be choking him; expressions of loneliness, alienation, and hopelessness abound throughout Because the Internet. Gambino is rich, famous, and talented in multiple arenas, but he just doesn’t seem to be enjoying himself very much.

Because the Internet is nominally a concept album; the songs include roman numerals to differentiate between concepts (I. The Party), references to computer terminology (Dial Up), and excessively long titles with lots of punctuation (II. Earth: The Oldest Computer (The Last Night)). The first song, Crawl, begins with a disjointed female voice singing the hook to Gambino, “Betchya crawl, all alone,” after an apparent break up, and is the first of the album’s many references to being alone. The dark and grimy No Exit feels claustrophobic because of the pressure weighing on Gambino. “Can’t sleep, 3 A.M., stare at the ceiling, murder the feeling,” the first verse begins as he slips further into the darkness of his mind. The uneasiness continues as he repeatedly refers to himself as a “recluse” and a “murderer.” On the radio-friendly lead single, 3005, he liked to dance to his favorite song but now, “the thrill is gone.” Later in the song he questions his loneliness, “Got a house full of homies, why do I feel so the opposite?”

The album is filled with references to Internet memes, social media, and technology and the result is usually negative. Worldstar is built around references to the infamous website and includes the outro, “We don’t wanna be a Worldstar, And all I wanna be is a world star.” Elsewhere, the negative connotation of technology continues as he pleads with his girl, “Email denied, talk to me baby.” Computers inspire connections between far-flung places and people, but they can also be used as barriers or dividers. Later he references the title of the album, “And you’re saying it’s because of the Internet, try once and then it’s onto the next chick.” The Internet popularized his inner monologues, but it also made his faults public knowledge. If the girl is hesitant because of stories she read about him, Gambino doesn’t care. He’s not waiting.

In times like these, Gambino reverts to the braggart/hedonistic persona that is usually found in popular rap, but which is incongruous with his personality on most of the album. Sure, everyone has different feelings and emotions, but Gambino makes a habit of asking for our sympathy because he is lonely or uncomfortable, and then quickly changing back to bragging about the girls, parties and drugs. Or sometimes vice versa, as on The Worst Guys, “I had a ménage, I murdered the vaj’, But afterwards, it was awkward as fuck.” Since most of the album contains mentions of Gambino feeling alone or uncomfortable, it’s strange to hear him brag. Is he trying to convince the audience of the superiority of his life, or convince himself?

One of the best songs on the album is Telegraph Ave, featuring Lloyd, in which he goes deep into full-on Drake mode. Over an easily digestible R&B beat, Gambino croons most of the song as an ode to his girl in Oakland. But even in his romantic musings, he still isn’t confident. “If I left you all alone, would you still pick up the phone?” he asks near the end of the song. Other standouts include the aforementioned 3005 and the late album collaboration with Jhené Aiko, Pink Toes. The rumors surrounding a possible relationship between Gambino and Aiko seem justified as the song is by far the happiest of the album. Other guests include Azaelia Banks and Chance the Rapper; both of whom are relegated to providing hooks. In Chance the Rapper’s case he doesn’t even get that. He’s tasked with simply repeating a single line back to Gambino during the hook. It’s a shame since Chance’s star is rising and he and Gambino have collaborated well in the past.

Gambino continues to produce or co-produce most of his songs. Frequent collaborator and Community composer Ludwig Göransson shows up, as well as a couple other producers, but this is overwhelmingly Gambino’s ship. Atmospheric synths and vocal effects are strewn throughout the album, and more than a few beats sound like they could be throwaways from Drake’s last album. There are no glaring problems, sound-wise, but Gambino also never really feels like he is pushing himself to really excel on the beats. He built the beats, he sings on the beats, he raps on the beats, and everything is stylistically a little too similar. It sounds good, but a little variety goes a long way from keeping the songs from blending into each other.

The forward momentum shown on previous releases continues with Because the Internet. The jokes and gimmicks show up less often and in their place are introspective questions about himself, his relationships, and his family. Most of the time it works, but Gambino also lets himself fall into standardized rap issues with lyrics about money, women, drugs, and hedonistic lifestyles. That’s fine, but the audience has to question his intentions. The obvious answer is he is using these things to comfort himself from loneliness – even if they don’t seem to help him much. The boasts and blusters about excess seem like Gambino is trying to convince himself of his own happiness; that he should be happy with his current position in life. Unfortunately, the boasts fall hollow, and the strongest moments on Because the Internet are when Gambino’s at his most introspective.

(By @DominickJGrillo)

DJBooth Rating - 4 Spins

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Posted December 9, 2013
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