Wrapping yourself up in a character is what makes actors great, even if your art is comedy. Donald Glover is an actor/comedian who started with a few questionable sketches via Derrick Comedy, then wrote for and made appearances on 30 Rock before becoming a well loved and known star of the continuing cult comedy Community. His alter ego however shares the same traits in making a character.
Donald Glover is also known as Childish Gambino, rapper and producer who first began making mixtapes and then an EP and then full length albums. By inhabiting a rap persona along the lines of his influences in Jay-Z and Kanye West (who is of course the very epitome of an overblown personality) it’s sometimes difficult to decipher whether the Gambino is in character or not. Whilst rapping “I swear the track I lie on’s my last track” in ‘My Shine’, his attitude towards this idea maybe has shifted after transforming into a character simply called “The Boy”.
His acting and writing skills have progressed into a new world of conceptual creations, constructing a story around the ‘Because The Internet’ album with a short film dubbed “Clapping For The Wrong Reasons”. This new world surrounds the songs, videos, film, promotion, artwork, a screenplay and the forthcoming ‘Deep Web’ tour. This new world has even swallowed Gambino himself, as he’s started displaying an aloof, existential outlook in his appearances and interviews, similar to his created character. Tellingly however, he tends to break this character whilst performing live, forgetting for a moment his method acting and grinning, enjoying the moment.
Childish Gambino’s primary efforts were either streams of (often filthy) turns of phrase, mixed alongside deeply open (almost emo-like) diary entries. His second full length effort however is a foray into the concept album. A darker, far more serious edge runs throughout the lengthy nineteen track LP, and is split into chapters. He speaks, raps and sings of genuine love and anger, rather than the crude sexuality and call-outs to other rappers so ever present in his contemporaries. He often drifts into navel-gazing, out of body reflections before unleashing the raw emotion of ‘Sweatpants’ or ‘3005’. Despite this seemingly genuine release, there also seems to be an undercurrent of reluctance to connect, despite the full-on soul moments that appear throughout the record. A smooth often falsetto’d melody runs in most of the songs, contrasted against fast-paced, stirring and aggressive tracks.
Amongst these songs a handful of new artists are showcased, including a brief appearance from the much hyped Chance The Rapper, a soft and out of character melody line from Azealia Banks and a verse so eloquent from Jhene Aiko it matches Gambino’s lyricism, adding a gorgeous voice to push its appeal even further. As well as collaborating once again with producer Ludvig Göransson (who appears as the composer on Community) the album is mixed fantastically by acclaimed producer Andrew Dawson (Kanye West, Rolling Stones, Tyler the Creator), really bringing the continuity of the album together.
Gambino’s performance next to the power, diversity and hold of the album leaves something to be desired however. Whilst it’s always difficult for a band to match the energy and finesse presented on a well crafted and lauded album, it must be even more so for a rapper. Whilst the “Because The Internet” screenplay (which interspersed the music with written scenes and brief soundless visuals) showed promise, none of that is represented at the gig, though Glover has donned the ever present white t-shirt and khaki shorts of “The Boy” which he has now continuously worn for months leading some to speculate about a Jaoquin Pheonix style method-acting situation.
Gambino’s persona on stage seems reserved between songs, although polite, but his enthusiasm and excitement often slips through in the reaction to his newer songs, a wide beam stretches across his face as the audience recites his (often complex) lyrics perfectly. Whilst the audience seems to be an admirable split down the middle in demographic, the “n-word” is shouted by those who probably would be better censoring themselves. The mood is odd, with no opening act or even obvious DJ to be seen, the atmosphere seems mixed but altogether supportive as Gambino takes to the stage. Opening with rap tracks ‘Crawl’ and ‘The Worst Guys’, it’s obvious that tonight is all about the sing-a-long (or rap-a-long). Smoother songs follow, ‘Shadows’ is dominated by groove and ‘Urn’ is a soft beautiful falsetto which Glover pulls off seamlessly.
Chanted by the crowd constantly before the set started is ‘Worldstar’, an acidic rap that burns of swagger and arrogance, one of the many tracks that has you questioning if it’s from the voice of the character or the real life rapper. The five song melee of new tracks disappoints no one but the medley to follow of three tracks from his debuts, the glorious ‘Freaks And Geeks’, the sweetly brash “Firefly”, “Yaphet Koto” a track left off the new album, but previewed before its release and ended with the powerfully outward “Bonfire” that has everyone jumping and shouting. By only performing snatches of his old music, Glover pleases the crowd whilst also satisfying himself to leave room to spare for the new tracks. His backing band are stunning, but melt into the background against the lead’s fiery presence. Some songs are done totally without a band altogether, but the backing tracks are off putting, and a move towards creating version of the songs that didn’t require the often undermixed backing may create a better atmosphere.
The soft and wonderful “Telegraph Ave.” follows, sweetly mixing introverted rap with powerful vocals. Gambino also drops freestyles into his set with ease, even if sometimes he may stick to a repeated phrase as he comes up with the next section, but they always are pulled off with speed, witticism and precision. The powerfully hearbreaking “Heartbeat” comes next and although it’s a solid fan favourite, it creates an air of discomfort as the song is so downbeat that the crowd almost seems reluctant to cheer at its ending.
Thankfully, the Gambino sweetness returns with the gorgeous “Pink Toes”, a sweet high school love story between a drug dealer and his girlfriend. The Jhene Aiko verse is on playback which makes for a weird experience as Glover raps over a disembodied voice. Maybe a replacement verse would have worked better. This is forgotten however as the brilliant first single “3005” has the crowd fired up again, with the whole crowd chanting the lyrics back to the mesmerised Gambino on stage who is clearly having a blast. Puns are set against the most sincere of love declarations and the audience answer “hold up” in the chorus in perfect unison. The crowd acts as hype man to Gambino’s lead, shouting each of the rap punchlines with split-second accuracy.
“Sweatpants” follows, another acidic but playful rap that dips between Gambino and his alter-ego and states the lyric and includes some of the greatest twists of words on the entire new album. (“I’m too fly, Jeff Goldblum” is a perfect example). The first set finishes with the epic “Lights Turned On” which borrows lyrics from Kanye West, invokes all the anger and crassness that littered his first releases but still retains sincerity and commitment in its live incarnation, especially as the crowd jump along to the perfectly dance-oriented beats.
The encore starts with a series of rarer tracks and freestyles alongside Glover’s brother which slightly alienates the less well-informed audience members. Another track that didn’t make it to the new album “Centipede” also gets played. The tracks may have been left off as they didn’t fit with the concept, but they’re great standalone songs in of themselves, which probably is why they’re still being performed. Finally, the set is finished with the most epic of tracks from the new album, and the one that gets everyone jumping until the end “Earth: The Oldest Computer”, one of the finale tracks that features Azealia Banks on vocals on the album but is perfectly matched by Gambino live. The rave beats are an awesome end to a set that leaves the whole room rumbling with approval after the house lights come on.
Whatever opinions or theories surround Childish Gambino currently, the true fact remains that the actor turned rapper is not just living out an alternative path, he is a great artist in his field and his performances - although not as fantastical as his records - certainly match or surpass his rivals. “The Boy” is back, and even better than before.
Teenagers are often nastily portrayed by the media and the general public as ASBO-ridden, alcohol abusing, drug taking, impregnated, internet-addicted layabouts. The better side of teenagers are only often portrayed in freak life-saving stories and there never seems to be a very good view of how teenagers affect change - or are affected by change - in the community.
What isn’t brought up very often by the media is the good work that youth centres, clubs, activities and provisions provide. In all areas of creative expression, sport and other extra-curricular experiences there are fantastic stories of progress and dedication in young people. This of course is not a freak occurrence, but aided spectacularly by youth workers who are dedicated and passionate to providing these services to young people.
To take this on from a personal aspect (which you can skip by heading to the next break), I attended youth clubs and provisions from even before I was a teenager. Even if it was just hanging around in a building, away from home and school and off the streets, taking advantage of the facilities (which seem lacklustre now in retrospect but provided us with entertainment back then) that were available.
I soon moved towards the more active engagement of joining in with a community project in my city which was the effort to set up a music festival for young people. This project not only sparked my interest in the wider music scene, it also gave me a fantastic insight into the practices, trials and troubles surrounding such an event. From initially just a young teenage volunteer (helping out by stewarding and creating a small and rarely used internet presence at the time) I gradually gained the experience and the knowledge to essentially run the festival at the head of a committee of young people with the oversight and responsibility of a dedicated and passionate youth worker.
This and other projects linked to the music festival not only provided me with the basis for the knowledge I have now about the local and wider music industry but also provided me with a) my first job (through contacts we had made in the process) b) a great advantage in getting into university c) a chance to curate a stage at the local Swn Festival (followed by a role later on in managing venues at said festival) and finally probably my current jobs in live sound, journalism and most recently promotion.
My experience with youth work and centres is not unique. Many people I know who used these services grew up with a fantastic advantage and with great opportunities ahead with the experience under their belt. By creating a passionate and fantastic environment to progress and learn outside of school, the youth service provides a much needed system of authority, education, progression and opportunity.
Unfortunately, young people are often left voiceless by one thing - their voting eligibility. You have to be eighteen to vote for your local council representatives and government policy makers - by the time you are, you’re often left with a changed perspective about younger people. My experience has not left me this way. I care passionately about the exclusion of young people in every way from media prejudice, to exclusion from events to a general ignorant feeling towards young people, their rights and needs.
My local council (Cardiff County Council) are pressured with the action to make £50 million worth of cuts this year, and in doing so are cutting £1 million from the youth service budget. This means axing my old high school’s youth centre, as well as youth centres I’ve had the privilege to work with during my time as a volunteer in the youth music scene. The council are gravely and ignorantly cutting services which in turn will decimate the potential of thousands of young people in Cardiff who will not receive the benefits, experience and life achievements that these services provide.
Depriving future generations of these opportunities is damaging not only for young people but for the future of the community. Cutting funding to an already crippled service that gets by from pittance from the council and hours of funding applications to fill a gaping chasm of debt is irrevocably damaging to a community that needs all it can right now to provide a good base for children and teenagers. The youth service essentially built up my skills for free and gave me some mind-blowing opportunities that still amaze me today. I still hold my last full year working for the music festival and its final outcome as one of the proudest and greatest achievements of my life so far.
Please consider signing this petition and voicing your opposition to these extremely damaging cuts to our community.
Product of the Youth Service
Update: Thanks for the interest in this cause. You can comment on the budget proposals here - but there is no explicit questions relating to the cuts to the Youth Service, which is a misleading and terrible move by the council. I am endeavouring to work on this and will be getting in touch with the right people to do so.
Expanded Playlist (Spotify) - [does not include tracks 1 + 9]
there were a lot of great albums released this year, so this was a hard list to cut down to, and even harder to rank. these are my top ten albums purely down to how much I enjoyed listening to them since the start of the year.
I may expand on this list later this month to explain my choices, but this is pretty definitive (even though technically two of them aren’t even out yet…)
songs in the key of sadness: compiled between 29/11/13 and 01/12/13
Spotify link: fear and loathing 4: songs in the key of sadness
Youtube link: fear and loathing #4: songs in the key of sadness