In many ways, Donald Glover is the prototypical figure of our current social media generation. Consider the grassroots push to get Glover cast as the lead in the new Spiderman series, the slew of rapid-fire EP and mixtape releases that put Childish Gambino on the map or the appropriately quirky viral marketing of his new album, Because the Internet. Has anyone else ever released an animated GIF image in announcement of their album cover?
Glover’s presence on the web, coupled with his role in a cult TV show allows for just enough groundswell to make him virally relevant without pushing him into the mainstream. Thus, he’s still cool enough for the underground crowd without becoming so widespread as to lose his status as a voice for the hipster hip hop heads. All of this culminates in Because the Internet, an album that captures Glover and the spirit of the internet age in a way that is poignant, provocative and near perfect.
While Camp was a worthy debut effort, it also felt a bit too self-indulgent, immature and unfocused. The same cannot be said for Because the Internet. Glover has appeared to grow in every way imaginable on this new record – not only becoming a better songwriter, but delving into much deeper subject matter and purposely displaying it with an array of styles and influences.
Upon first listen, it would be easy to call the album disjointed or unfocused, but with repeated listens, the overarching theme of the album begins to take shape. Childish Gambino barrels through a slew of styles, flowing smooth like Frank Ocean on “Shadows”, creating the atmosphere of Kanye’s Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy on “Zealots of Stockholm (Free Information)”, and laying down a Young Money-esque track with “Sweatpants”.
There’s also the indie feel of “The Worst Guys”, the accessibility of “3005” and the calming, ambient sound of “Flight of the Navigator”. While this could be chalked up to extreme experimentation on Glover’s part, it also touches on something much deeper. In the spirit of our rapid-fire media consumption, Because the Internet is a reflection of Glover’s psyche, as viewed from the perspective of the listener through the lens of our current web-driven culture.
As the album progresses at the pace our brains have been unintentionally trained to move, it becomes apparent that Because the Internet is much more than Glover’s story – it’s all of ours. The album transitions from Glover’s own insecurities and blemishes to the conclusion that all of us are hampered with social flaws that are a direct result of a craving for connection that is never completely satiated by our online relationships. At the end of “Earth: The Oldest Computer”, Glover states the harsh truth many of us have reluctantly accepted, that “to be alone is alive”.
Because the Internet is surely a brilliantly crafted snapshot of our culture, yet it is also an extremely worthy work of art in its own right, and the best Childish Gambino release by a fairly large margin. Anyone who was concerned that Glover might take a turn for the predictable with last year’s Royalty mixtape can rest assured that he has an arsenal of creative ideas to keep us all on our toes. Because the Internet is a thoughtful and painstakingly constructed commentary on our internet culture that doubles as a portrait of Glover’s own struggles and self-awareness. It excels on every level and has solidified Childish Gambino as a creative force in the hip hop community.
by Kiel Hauck
Kiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.