So. Donald Glover, aka Childish Gambino. Camp.
There’s two ways I could go with this one. Choose your own ending (those were my favorite Goosebumps; p.s., one time I could have met R.L. Stine because a friend of mine was interviewing him for the newspaper here, but I had to work and I’ve been kicking myself ever since, the end).
A: Singing the praises of Glover, a kid who came up through the slums (“Bonfire”), overcame relentless bullying (“Outside”), and made something of himself: at 23, became the youngest staff writer on 30 Rock, played Troy on Community, and was nearly the first black Spiderman; then proved himself all over again to be a capable rapper as Childish Gambino on Camp, as well as a stand-up comedian and actor.
B: Questioning whether Glover’s Childish Gambino project is steeped in reality as a misogynist (“Backpackers”) stopping just short of being a stalker (“Heartbeat”), or if the joke’s on the listener, and the Gambino character is a carefully crafted projection of what Glover, a self-proclaimed ‘black nerd,’ could never actually be.
Or is it that the two possibilities aren’t mutually exclusive from one another?
Look, I’m all for great characters. It’s why I bothered to watch professional wrestling during its heyday of the “Attitude” era, when the storylines were still on point and the product was watchable (can’t say the same for today). There was a period where I was hooked to the point of nigh-obsession, not missing a Monday night show for something like three years.
It wasn’t just a ritual at that point. It was a never-ending semester in character creation, development and evolution. I was drawn to the characters that I could never be: the underdog asshole types with huge egos like Chris Jericho.
But the lesson I took away from watching the WCW before its demise and the WWF in its prime is that life is in a constant stage of imitating art. That some of the characters seemed to have taken on a life of their own, blurring the lines between fiction and reality.
Is it the same for Camp? Are the 56 minutes of audio recordings released by Glover as “Gambino” his attempt in trying to make listeners feel bad for him? That he, to borrow a common colloquialism, ‘started from the bottom’ and now he’s ‘here’ as a multi-millionaire and lower A-list celeb?
For one, I don’t feel bad for him because he’s a talented guy. Talented beyond words, in fact. His latest shows have been half-comedy show, half-rap show, but all successful and sold out.
Is that penance enough for being told as a kid that he had a big nose, and that he talked white?
Can it even be penance considering the questionable nature of fiction versus reality?
I won’t claim to have the answers, but the fact that the inquiry was raised, and that some of the album’s lyrics make me question both their inspiration and their legitimacy is enough for me to recognize that it’s a genius character.
Say what you will about the album’s apparent misogyny(“She’s an overachiever, ‘cuz all she do is suck seed”), but if anything is clear about Camp is that, at the very least, DG/CG is a guy with talent beyond words.
Keep in mind, too, that this isn’t even Glover’s first album. On the contrary, it’s his fourth, but first on a major label, and first to attain such huge success, selling over 200,000 copies to date.
Just go into it with the expectations of ridiculous beats, lyrics that will leave your mouth agape either from surprise or appreciation of a clever pun, and the lasting impression of “Is this real or not?”
From Camp, here’s the song with the sickest beat on the whole album: “You See Me” –
Standout tracks: “Sunrise” and “Heartbeat” and obviously the single, “Bonfire”
Weakest track: “Kids (Keep Up)” – only because I loathe children (sorry, babies). That Pete Wentz line cracked me up, though.
RIYL: Rap, hip-hop. Kanye West (for the braggadocio), Talib Kweli/Mos Def (for the intelligence).