Donald Glover is a very important artist - in spite of (actually, because of) the fact that he’s also a minor artist. Spread mighty thin by a career indecisiveness not unlike James Franco’s, this fellow wunkerkind’s caught somewhere between outstanding comedian and legitimate emcee, though definitively neither. But like Franco, he seems to cherish the variety. Okay, no he doesn’t. Or maybe he does. This anxiety is part of why he’s important - more than Franco.
Whatever his private life actually is, it’s trafficked to the public sphere as some kind of hideous bipolar stew: apt as he is to grant manic and engaging interviews hours after lost hotel notes surface suggesting something like deep anguish. It’s cynical to say those notes were tucked away to promote because the internet with viral accidentalism, but Frank Ocean’s coming out letter was exactly the same thing, only florid - so whatever, it’s business. Again, what matters is how these things are taken in. And exactly how Donald Glover is taken in depends squarely on who the hell you are - because a half black half white half comic half rapper half gen x half millennial half boast half angst half talent isn’t coughing up any immediate answers.
It’s this mediating obscurity that makes him so important: it makes him exactly the guy to cut the first concept album about internet culture - a scene made up of kids my age and younger who should brag about their colorblindness, who could probably use a little tunnel vision, share with gold fish an attention span of frightening (read: missing) duration, suffer the attendant social anxieties en masse, and cast off memes sooner than they can conceivably be produced. In other words: Donald Glover is a smaller version of the internet.
because the internet incubates these tensions, even (especially) as they roll away, one after the other, three seconds into concept - long enough for Child(ish) Gambino to lose interest and move on to reblog another Tumblr post. I know this sounds easy, or lazy, or awful. A concept album about the heteroglossia of perpetual social chatter strikes us as kind of a low bar, right? Do any or all of the following: act schizophrenic; interrupt yourself in fake patois and TV noise; say a bunch of stupid period-piece shit like hashtag and “ain’t nobody got time for that;” sample R Plus Seven and Amnesiac; try to sound good without, you know, songs.
Yes, yes, all of that happens. The title even gives away the acuity of this condition: because the internet, an example of my least favorite meme: what Cracked.com calls “infactuation,” or: expressing unqualified support for a concept (usually science or science related) by situtating it after ‘because.’ “Why is NASA so awesome?!” “Because science!” “Why did Republicans cave on the healthcare debate?!” “Because Keynes!” The phrase speaks to the thoughtlessness of lowest common denominator ideologues (brought to you by the same people who say “that’s not, like, a thing!”), usually - sadly - liberals. Incidentally, these are precisely the people gleeful to suggest all baristas are English majors. (Hah! Joke’s on you. I’m technically unemployed.)
But wait, there’s more. This album comes at the ass-end of the year, too late to crack into the top ten lists you know this nerd cares about; is sequenced by track listing Roman numerals that don’t jive, which leave it looking like a broken or half-baked idea. All the cliches are here to conceptualize its unconcept of disposability - which thereby renders this whole thing pat and predictable (in its unpredictability! Ah!!! Paradox! Because logic, bitches!)
Yet, despite himself, I think Donald Glover’s found something he’s really, really, really good at - because the internet gets by because… production. Skitters in delivery (from happy manic to abject angst - a flow idiocracy I’ve always admired in his work) and sampled static are bridged by (hyper subtle) beats that betray their own intransigence. Pay attention to “WORLDSTAR,” which holds up as a song even as it tries its best to shake itself loose. Departures, too, into the unfortunate misogyny he mimics in his baffling search for cred (despite the weirdness he’s also embraced) are overwhelmed by lush strings that allow you to ignore all the actual content. You know… just like the internet. And “I. the worst guy (feat. Chance the Rapper)” leaps near to the head of the year’s song pack in channeling DJ Rashad’s tendenc- tendenc- tend- ten- tend- ency- cy- cy- ten- to- to- to re- re- rererere- repeat- tend- repeat himself in the smartest way you’ll hear: Chance and Childish chant “all she needed was some…” over and over and over and over - cluing you in that this “worst guy” has no idea what that “some” is that she needs, and will keep on making the same mistake despite his self-assurances. Over and over and over and over and over. It’s also a gorgeous song, which helps. And one more thing: “flight of the navigator” mixes up Drake with Tyler, The Creator’s weird Satan voice - and succeeds in uniting them with, uh, Conor Oberst.
Altogether? This internet thing works like a Velvet Underground record: after a few spins I can’t tell you much about each song, but holy God is it excellent as, like, a thing. Why? Because… internet. Or, you know, Donald Glover. That extremely talented human.