Childish Gambino & Becoming A Lover

I talk a lot on here about various ways I fall in love with music. Sometimes I know I’ll love something before listening. Sometimes a new artist will come along and instantly click with me on all levels. Sometimes I’ll be completely indifferent about an artist until a project blindsides me. Above all these, my favorite way is when an artist I dislike makes something awesome.

I take a little bit of pride in the fact that I’m not a hater. There are very, very few artists I actively dislike. I’m relatively picky about my music, so I don’t love everyone, but I don’t waste energy hating artists I don’t connect with. Taylor Swift is everywhere. Overall, I don’t like her music. But what she releases doesn’t effect me and she seems like a decent human, so you won’t see me reeling off Twitter diatribes whenever she’s on TV.

Childish Gambino, for whatever reason, always annoyed me. He seemed quirky for the sake of being quirky, and it seemed like he was one of those artists who just needlessly dipped his toes into every art form. He was already a pretty successful actor by the time the rapping thing gained steam. Why bother rapping? It’s corny. Stop trying so hard. These actor-turned-rapper types generally try to blow people away with unnecessary lyricism that tends to pander to the “REAL HIP-HOP” crowd that would worship a Labrador if it could drop 16 bars with a decent rhyme scheme with some punchlines.

And I feel like that’s where Gambino started. My first interaction with Donald Glover as a rapper was on “Bonfire”, from his Camp project. Even listening now, I want to turn it off after 30 seconds. Everything is a punchline, and there’s a lot of “mainstream hip-hop is dumb!” type stuff flying around. It all seemed super gimmicky and designed to appeal to hordes of people, which annoys me. He was popping up on Facebook feeds everywhere, and everyone seemed to think he was the next big thing because he was different. Anyway, I had him written off pretty good.

Then something happened.

It started with the lead single. It was way too catchy to hate. The production was great. He found this singing voice that wasn’t amazing, but worked really well for him. It was much less aggressive sounding than “Bonfire” and it seemed like Gambino fell back into something that suited him way better. Alright, now we’re talking.

Thankfully, Because the Internet followed suit. I won’t pretend to love everything about it, and a lot of what I dislike just comes down to preference. But songs like “Telegraph Ave” are amazing, and create a much more colorful tapestry than what he had on earlier songs. The production is lush, and much more diverse. His singing makes a world of difference. It’s not a laundry list of over-written lyrics and punchlines. It’s an album.

On songs like “Shadows”, he still gets to play around lyrically. It’s just so much more mellow than it was before. The fluttering production and uptempo, laid back flow are much warmer and more inviting than what I had Gambino pegged for.

And it’s clear he isn’t just doing this for giggles. He isn’t an actor who delves into rapping to fulfill a boyhood fantasy. If the music itself isn’t enough proof of that, the concept of the album is. If you — like me — love high-concept art, Because the Internet is going to excite you. I won’t delve into it here, but there’s a 72-page movie script that accompanies the album. The concept is intricate, and maybe a little much. But I admire the idea and I think it really shows Gambino’s artistry. He takes this very seriously and worked really hard to make a lasting impression.

And I guess it worked, because the album came out nearly two years ago, and over the past few weeks I’ve found myself returning to it on occasion, surprised at how well it’s holding up and how much it caught me off guard originally.

I was wrong about him.

So that’s how Gambino became one of the artists I flopped on. He used to be one of a handful of musicians who got on my nerves, and now he’s someone I anticipate new music from. After all, it’s way more fun to be a lover than a hater.


Originally published at fromloveland.com on November 6, 2015.