Donald Glover wants you to like him, or at least just understand him for a bit. The comedian and Troy on “Community” took a surprising star turn as a rapper with his mixtape Cul de Sac and debut album, Camp. The latter was met with less-than-favorable reviews, and Glover is looking for a comeback with Because the Internet.
“Crawl” opens up the record, a track with a sound collage feel that Glover uses as his thesis. Best described as Drake with a slightly past-due sense of humor, it’s what listeners have expected from Gambino. Smart, somewhat entertaining production hamstrung by the overall blandness of Glover’s lyricism. Luckily, he only stops in for a verse or two.
The middle part of the album, with tracks like “Pink Toes” find a more relaxed feel and Gambino trying something different than Drake. Instead, he’s trying hard as hell to become a new Andre 3000. Populist weirdness is something Donald definitely learned on Community, and he’s trying to harness it on this album. “Toes”, in particular, tries to recreate some sort of early aughts magic, especially with a distinctly Neptunes-esque beat. He brings along Jhene Aiko for the ride, wherein she contributes little to nothing to the song.
“The Oldest Computer”, finds Gambino with another personality complex. Does he want to be Frank Ocean or just a guy rapping in near double-time? Glover honestly can not carry the album by himself. He had the presence of mind to at least get up-and-comer Chance the Rapper on the track “The Worst Guys”. Over another half-tempo beat, the comedian sounds “awkward and nervous” as fuck, and you think Chance might add some relief. Instead, he’s just there on the hook.
Gambino’s attempt at brag-rap is “Sweatpants”, which just asks, “are you eating though”? I guess, Donald, you “rich kid asshole”. It’s unlikable, and not the kind of interesting unlikable where you at least feel the need to engage the music that’s being presented. The idea permeates the entire album, from top down.
Donald Glover started out as an affable comedian, with a bright future ahead of him. He then found himself on the cult hit Community, with an uber-devoted fan base. Glover used his fame to become Childish Gambino, and the transition hasn’t been smooth. Because the Internet lacks an earnest sense of humor or self-awareness and ultimately suffers from taking itself so seriously.