because-the-internet-reviewChildish Gambino – Because The Internet
2013; Glassnote Records

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Day & A Dream Score: 4.0 out of 5

 

Let’s pretend that ROYALTY never happened.

Don’t get me wrong. Childish Gambino’s mixtape effort from last summer was certainly solid and chockful of bars from Gambino and his guests. It’s just that, in light of listening to Because The Internet, ROYALTY feels forced, if not slightly inauthentic. The Donald Glover that reared his head on Gambino’s debut effort, Camp, clearly resurfaces on his sophomore album, to the point where ROYALTY comes off as less of a bridge between two projects and more as a pit stop – if not a detour – that Gambino made on the way to The Internet.

Part of Childish Gambino’s charm has always come from being the different kid, the backpack rapper type who literally carried around demos in his backpack to pass along to his mostly white friends, hoping they’d listen and find they had a lot in common after all. That charm trickles over into much of Because the Internet. But now, Glover’s not hoping to appeal to his yuppie friends – he’s aiming to grab as many audiences as possible on one album. There’s simply no other fitting explanation for why “Crawl,” an electronic dance music flirtation, borrows Sweet Brown’s famous one-liner “Ain’t nobody got time for that!”; or why “Crawl” exists in the same space, much less on the same LP, as “Sweatpants,” whose guitar twangs come as close to country hip-hop as Keith Urban’s “Red Solo Cup,” (albeit with a KKK reference and plenty drops of the word “nigga”). Or why even bother with country hip-hop at one point if you were going to go full-blown country lullaby in “Flight of the Navigator” just a few tracks later.

It’s pure strategy on Gambino’s part to continue that idea of embracing what’s different by employing features from some of the more eclectic members of modern music – Chance The Rapper, whose half-nasal, half-whiny flow is a perfect fit on “The Worst Guys’” hook; Jhené Aiko, whose simply hypnotic turn on “Pink Toes” summons the summer in the wintertime; and Azealia Banks on “Earth: The Oldest Computer (Last Night),” which sounds more like an Azealia Banks track that happens to feature Gambino and reminds listeners of the true talent Banks possesses when she’s not embroiled in internet beef.

Gambino isn’t ashamed of aping the competition on Because The Internet, either. He consciously borrows Kendrick Lamar’s “Sherane” flow and delivery on “No Exit,” and drops vocals that rival Drake’s on “Shadows.” And while he’s far from competition, it’s admirable of Gambino to attempt a damned good Teddy Pendergrass impression on “Urn.”

Because The Internet begins and ends with the sound of book pages being skimmed through (though it sounds more like a tape being rewound), letting listeners know from the jump that a story is about to be told. Themes like the brevity of a life cycle – in reality and the industry – fear of the future, heartbreak, and untrustworthy people make up most of the eighteen songs following “The Library” intro, but because The Internet instrumentally sounds like a house party soundtrack, it’s easy to miss the deep questions and lessons within.

If ROYALTY was something Childish Gambino felt he had to make to prove his hip-hop legitimacy, then Because The Internet is Gambino’s clear “I’m doing me whether you like it or not” project. “Sorry, I’m just scared of the future,” Gambino admits on lead single “3005,” which hides confessional lines underneath an infectious beat and catchy hook. There may be no room in “the future” of rap music for a sound like Gambino’s – one that brings honesty back to hip-hop but also one that may not sound “hip-hop enough” for most listeners. But that doesn’t matter to Donald Glover as long as there are people in the present willing to hear him out. By album’s end, Gambino rejects the desperate plea for approval he issues out on “3005,” for someone to “hold my hand even if you don’t understand.” Rather, he boldly proclaims in album closer “Life: The Biggest Troll,” “Eventually all my followers realize they don’t need a leader/ Stay on your own shit, fuck what these clones think.”

That’s the sound of a Childish man getting some “fuck your opinion” in his system. And even if the talk may be cheap, it’s still refreshing to hear when damn near everything else out sounds the same.