Childish to Adult.
Something I’m not too sure about.
The first time I listened to Childish Gambino was sometime in 2011. I was on a big Community kick, like a lot of my friends were at the time; Donald Glover’s “Troy” character wasn’t my favourite from the show, but it was a bit of a novelty that someone I knew pricipally from a sitcom was releasing an EP (appropriately titled EP).
I think I came in to Donald a little bit later than some people, but EP seemed to be a jumping-on point for the general public because Community has blown at that point. His three prior releases — Culdesac, Poindexter, I Am Just A Rapper 1 + 2 — were something to go back and explore, but never really hit lived on my iPod like EP did.
I’m not a hip-hop connoisseur by my own admission, and normally I wouldn't like the type of rap that Gambino does; Freaks & Geeks grabbed me because of its beat and what it represented. While rappers touting how awesome they are isn’t anything new, the song was something you leeched off of and absorbed the confidence it radiated.
I remember listening to it a lot with a few friends while pre-gaming before parties, or later on, way-too-drunk, to slur through when we were good and going. I miss that.
I don’t talk to those friends now for a lot of reasons — we grew up, mostly in the same way that Glover did. His current tone from Because the Internet and in little bits on Royalty is a stark contrast between rapping about his dick size; it’s a weird thing, talking with other fans, because a common thought is that it’s hard to go back to listening to that early stuff.
Some of these people liked Culdesac best, and have changed their favourites to BTI — I’m one of them. Through the slow burn of a quarter-life crisis, it was refreshing to see an artist that seemed to be going through the musical equivalent of one (despite Glover being 30).
There was just this aura of him not knowing how to tell the story he wanted to — Camp was an attempt at that with the “kid on the bus” storyline, and Royalty came off as some kind of flailing experiment to combine what people liked and what he enjoyed doing.
All while this was going on, he showed up on other tracks, like Flux Pavillion’s Do or Die; I’m not psychic, but I think he felt like what people liked was chasing him, and in order to seize control, he would need to slowly wean people off and shift gears to something that felt right. This happened when he stopped writing 30 Rock, and again with Troy Barnes on Community. People resented him for the latter; how dare he stop being funny for them?
I saw Donald twice live; the first was a split comedy/music set, which I think was him trying to figure out if he could keep doing both instead of committing to music. I’m sure a lot of people have run into a problem of being good at a job and feeling guilty that they want to leave it for something different.
There were plenty of Community fans at that first show, and a couple yelling “Troy and Abed in the Morning!” at the stage — despite still being a pretty fan myself at that point I couldn’t help but cringe a little. Especially when you’re striking out to a totally unrelated project, the last thing you probably want to hear is that you’re being typecast as “that one dude from that show” and nothing more.
I figured you’d want to be remembered for more than that.
The second time I saw him was right before Because the Internet’s release (released in December, this was October); I was in the process of moving out of Toronto at this point and dead broke. I had just gotten home from a trip to Los Angeles that was “supposed to change my life” but didn’t — I got laid off during that trip, was exhausted and depressed.
He had announced that he was going to be playing the album in its entirety at a park in Toronto — I went with someone special to me. She was short, so she had a hard time seeing him. I brought a camera to try to get photos, but they weren’t amazing.
It wasn’t a life-changing experience, but I just remember so many people (including this one tall asshole beside me) yelling out “Troy!” This time, they got their share of shushes and side-eyes from the crowd. But still, it followed.
Back of my mind though, I hope the show gets cancelled
Maybe then I can focus
Part of my depression stemmed from my work — content is a terrible industry to get into if you’re easily affected by self-doubt. Seeing Donald that day didn’t help it. I remember being annoyed for the same reason I usually can’t stick around at shows too long: I don’t have patience for other fans. I’m a bit selfish in that I want to get something out of the experience.
That impromptu “show” didn’t kick me out of my funk, but Because the Internet was something that helped, even just a little.
When I left Toronto, I listened to the leak in order while carting loads of stuff in a pickup truck at 3AM in order to avoid rush hour traffic. I made the trip about eight times (Toronto to home) and the album will always remind me of change.
It also tells me that it’s okay to try to forge your own path, even if other people might not like that. You might end up hating the end result, but you need to take that step and do something. Anything. Do it better next time. Just don’t stay in something you hate, scared that you’ll disappoint others by wanting to do what you want.
Like I said before, I leeched off the confidence, even just a little.
It was better than nothing.
The last time I talked to a good friend was about BTI, and how she didn’t like any part of it whatsoever. She said it was “unlistenable.” At the time, I agreed with her; I wanted more of EP. I wanted more “let loose” songs like Freaks & Geeks, Bonfire, Hero, Black Faces, Break, etc.
It’s been almost two years since that conversation, and we hadn’t talked for months before it — Donald Glover didn’t drive us apart, but it’s weird to use that as a beacon of growing up.
I stopped being friends with that group, and didn’t really pick anything else up to fill that gap. We had different goals of what we wanted, and I’m not sure if it was just negligence on my part or us just growing in different directions — I look back on that time with a nostalgia because things were simpler, and well, didn’t suck at much.
But that suck is a necessity. It teaches us to keep fighting for where we want to go. It shows us that taking a chance on what we really want to be doing might not be the smoothest and may not even work out at all, but we’ll feel better than we would playing that same one role until we die.
You might end up alone, and you might end up with nothing.
Well, not totally nothing. At least you’ll have that something that made you take the dive in the first place.
Matt Demers doesn’t claim to know a lot about hip-hop, and doesn’t care if you think Gambino sucks. You can follow Matt on Twitter.