Album Reviews

Childish Gambino – Because the Internet

on December 09, 2013, 12:01am
childish gambino because the internet F
Release Date
December 10, 2013
Label
Formats

Because of hipster backlash, authenticity has largely become a moot point in popular music, save for hip-hop. Whether this is valid and whether an artist’s past or how a project is funded is relevant to the actual text can continue to be debated ad nauseam. The truth is, with regards to Childish Gambino, most people have already made up their minds regarding Donald Glover, in the sense that they know whether their opinion of Glover and his over-arching celebrity matter when listening to Childish Gambino.

What is really being talked about in a conversation about authenticity is believability, trust, and honesty. Does the listener believe what they are hearing? Not necessarily did the action described really happen, but does the spirit of what is being conveyed come from an honest place? Does the artist have capital-T “Truth” to convey? Or is there deception at work? Is the artist trying to trick us? A listener doesn’t want to agree with a sentiment, find meaning in a story, or enjoy the progression of a narrative, and then find out they were being manipulated.

As Pusha T says on this year’s excellent “Nosetalgia”, “This is timeless simply cuz it’s honest.”

Because it’s honest. Camp, the debut LP from Gambino, received some notable acclaim, and some very visible ridicule, and the argument between the two hinged on the issue of honesty. So, it’s no surprise that Because the Internet arrives fists raised, ready for the challenge of rap purists who wouldn’t accept Gambino under any condition (his opinion). That attitude was also present on Camp, and it’s exhausting to listen to a rapper address strawman arguments, particularly for the 99% of people who aren’t rap purists, and some of whom might actually come into an album willing to accept it on its own terms. But, if you are coming into an album like this, Gambino gives you about as much benefit of the doubt as the rap world gives his music.

Listening without prejudice to the facts that Gambino is a moderately successful comedian, actor, and writer, most notably for 30 Rock and Community, is possible. However, the content of Because the Internet would eventually lead you right back to the same skepticism of the validity of Donald Glover’s rap. On “Worldstar”, Gambino pantomimes the cadences of both Mac Miller and Kanye West; the album never distinguishes a style that is his own, always sounding like one step removed from his contemporaries, something that is bound to be more common as rap’s history extends to future generations. Other non-lyrical red flags are waved by the lack of contributors he has been able to feature, with exceptions of Chance the Rapper (underutilized in his role) and Azealia Banks (possibly the worst person possible to have endorsing a resume). When your most worthwhile feature on a rap album is Thundercat, the listener ought to ask the question: Why?

Because of the Hollywood star in Glover, it’s now coming to light that Because the Internet is actually (probably) much more than just an album of loosely narrative songs with not enough insight and far too many overly clever non sequiturs. With the announcement that there is actually a script based on the songs of Because the Internet (or, more likely, vice versa) and the convincing theory that Glover has been living the plot over the course of the last year (creating a “concept world” rather than a mere concept album), Childish Gambino fans now have all the more reason to proclaim his genius. Likewise, his detractors now have all the more reason to question everything about him. When, as has been suggested, Glover is using interviews, social media, and every other public communication to actually create the multimedia concept art, there has to be a reason for it. But, how can we believe anything about someone who considers the world a concept art piece and makes the fans just part of the story, like extras in a movie?

Just because he’s a character, “The Boy,” it doesn’t mean there can’t still be honesty, truth, or something to get out of the Because the Internet world. But, for Gambino, there is only emptiness, and isolation, and really poor artistic decisions. We know Gambino can write decently; after all, people seem to like his episodes of 30 Rock. The script that accompanies this album is not half-baked, but it does oscillate between eye-roll inducing cliches and aggravating modern flares like using “smh” in a sentence that isn’t dialogue, or having Rick Ross play The Boy’s father, or even fucking naming a character “The Boy.” And, that’s only the first couple of pages. At the end of Camp, the album ends with this story about The Boy never growing up, remaining the child on the bus forever. Metaphorically. Here, in reality, Glover is acting like he never grew up as well, offering up some of the least mature writing choices imaginable, featuring tricks that only impress the easily impressed. Indeed, if Because the Internet was your introduction to rap music, it would probably be fascinating. So, this reveal, that everything has been in character, doesn’t make the immaturity of the music acceptable. It’s the artistic equivalent of throwing up a brick from the three-point line and goofily claiming, “I meant to miss.”

What you are left with is an ice sculpture, intricate in its creation, taking more care than any of us would likely appreciate, but also fleeting in its ability to captivate, and ultimately about as useful as a puddle of water. There’s a line in closer “Life: The Biggest Troll (Andrew Auernheimer)” about “spending more on friends than TBS,” which, initially, is funny in a way that makes you think the words “that’s funny” in a timid, unsure voice. It’s also a rap line about Friends. No one should be rapping about Friends, even if you made some money writing for shows on Friends’ old network.

True story: I used to bartend, and on two occasions I can recall male customers asking me, “You ever watch Friends?” Both times I said no, because I did not want to have a conversation in public about Friends. But, really, who the fuck hasn’t seen Friends? It’s omnipresent in American culture. So, I would let the men recount whatever anecdote Friends had so impressed upon them that they needed to share it, and I’d probably fake laugh and say “that’s funny” at the end. I did that because I was nice and didn’t want to tell those guys that Friends is lame and they should be embarrassed for liking it so much that they ask their bartender to talk about it with them.

Because I was nice, this review skirts the same issue, the heart of why people won’t like this album. Because it is not cool. This probably stems from the lack of honesty (and indeed, can you think of a less honest show than Friends?). Certainly, you can find moments that are effective on the collection. “Crawl” keeps the head-shakers at a minimum with the legitimate hook setting the table for a hypothetical thematic feast, loneliness advertised as one of, if not the, main dish. But, rather than provide a solution, or even insight into the Internet reality, Gambino simply adds to the frustrations. The big reveal at the album’s conclusion is that he was (likely) trolling all the trolls, but what about the fans? What about those of us who don’t need our time wasted merely to make the point that someone was wasting our time? Because the Internet should read as Because I Can, as if the anonymity of the web gives us no culpability for our actions or our art. Because none of this excuses literally sounding like a jackass on “The Worst Guys” or that stomach-turning “squishy squishy” sound on “Worldstar” (or for that matter, lyrics like “got more likes than a white girl talking” that are just unnecessary and uninteresting commentaries on race).

Because the screenplay exists and Glover’s TV past won’t fade out of the discussion, it is worthwhile to note that in movies, twist endings or big reveals are common. But music isn’t a movie. We don’t watch a movie with the same expectations as we have when listening to music. And, yes, the dedication that Glover has seemingly displayed in the project is admirable. But he just doesn’t seem to get music on this album. Maybe it’s because of his taste, or because he is trying too hard to stand out, or because of his hubris, or because he has lost touch with reality, or maybe it is because of the internet. And, as the title may suggest who is to blame for this ordeal of an album from Glover’s perspective, for the listener, Because Childish Gambino would fit better.

Essential Tracks: “Crawl”, “Life: The Biggest Troll (Andrew Auernheimer)”

17 comments

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Frups
September 6, 2014 at 8:51 pm

What a strange review.

The reviewer is clearly struggling with a few things. Hip Hop (including Rap) might not be the best beat for him to cover since he is utterly confused about the basics of the genre, and, in 2013/2014, STILL thinks there is (should be) only a type of rap that he can call ‘honest’. I have a good idea what that type is.

Cherry picking one rhyme that mentions Friends (a line that works on many different levels, as it was meant to) and dedicating a whole paragraph to it and his bartender life is…quite something.

“An uninteresting and unnecessary commentary on race”… that sentence says a lot more about the reviewer than he probably thinks. Wow.

D Money
August 25, 2014 at 5:07 pm

This is why I I get my hip hop reviews from Dead End Hip Hop, not some white guy…

Matthias
July 24, 2014 at 4:34 am

I always spent my half an hour to read this blog’s content every day along with a cup of coffee.

Anonymous
May 21, 2014 at 8:29 pm

Haha, this guy cannot seriously be paid to write such awful reviews. Oh man, such a terribly written piece.

Gay
April 18, 2014 at 2:55 pm

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Trevor
March 19, 2014 at 9:08 pm

I think the person with the issue was the reviewer, what a joke. Its funny because I don’t remember Childish boxing himself into one genre of pure”rap” but that’s the way you reviewed it? Like Bino was trying to just rap his ass off about cars. clothes. and hoes or something? Never finds his own sound? Really because this album is a trip to me. A ride through his mind in a way Bino couldn’t do on his “I want to belong almost in rap game to almost whiny record of Camp” In my opinion camp was a C+ while Because the Internet is an B+ or A- at least. The creative videos and MOVIE SCRIPT he wrote to go along with this album it was by far the most creative release in rap in a long time that wasn’t trying to hard such as Yeezus. I feel like you’re holding Bino to a unrealistic standard, boxing him in and gave a bad review. The only thing I agree with is the undervalue of Chance The Rapper in The Worst Guys. Song is good but with a verse from Chance it would have been even better.

Www.Google.Com
March 8, 2014 at 11:27 am

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joseph osorno
February 20, 2014 at 10:57 pm

If your gonna talk bad for him using a character as a basis for the album you cant then get mad when the songs (like the worst guys and worldstar)are based of said characters situation

Anonymous
February 17, 2014 at 8:05 pm

this guy sucks

N
February 10, 2014 at 12:20 pm

This review is far too negative. I’ve seen him perform these songs live and now know that this album is actually perfect. There is no “stomach churning” sound in World star…it’s weird that a reviewer would think that. Possibly the wrong person reviewed this. Then again , I think of MMLP2 as more perfect.

Noah Sommer
February 3, 2014 at 12:49 pm

There used to be WAY more comments here, all of which held very negative views towards this review and the reviewer… I really wish they were still here, because I can’t imagine hating or disagreeing with this review any more…

Anonymous
February 3, 2014 at 12:47 pm

There used to be WAY more comments here, all of which held very negative attitudes for this review… I really wish they were still here, because I couldn’t hate and disagree with this review more…

Noah Sommer
February 3, 2014 at 12:51 pm

Didn’t mean to post this twice, I thought it didn’t post the first time since I didn’t log in. My bad.

danielwalkercaffrey
February 21, 2014 at 5:49 pm

Unfortunately, a lot of comments—both positive and negative—on articles from last year got deleted when we launched the new site. We wish there was a way to get them back, but there’s not. Thanks for reading!

Matthew D (@xXTensaZenXx)
February 2, 2014 at 10:47 pm

It seems like the author has more of a problem with Glover then the music. Very poor, unprofessional review IMHO.

Lowa Nigi
February 2, 2014 at 10:45 pm

All I hear is blah blah blah… This author is a bit too cool for himself…

Alexander Dekker (@ACJ)
June 19, 2014 at 6:41 am

+1.

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