Never choosing to commit too long to a single role, I would imagine Donald Glover takes longer than most when it comes to filling out the “Occupation:” box on any form.
Glover has been known to wear many hats. He’s a comedian, television writer, model, and a rapper under the stage name Childish Gambino, to name just a few of his stints.
That being said, it’s more than appropriate that his second album Because the Internet opens up with the question, “Who am I?” on the opening song Crawl. The busy track sees Glover facing an ominous orchestra and primal screams coupled with an eerie hook (Courtesy of Toronto-based Kai), all of which he navigates with ease, proving right off the bat that Glover has stepped his game up since his first major label release, Camp. “Rec league, I ain’t payin’ to ball/Y’all b-string like a broke guitar/and I still put it down like the family dog.”
“Who am I?” is the question that hangs above most of the album. It’s the question Glover might ask himself after getting cold feet before a threesome in The Worst Guys, “it was awkward as fuck/cause I’m nervous as fuck, I could not get it up/I need a minute, cold water to the face.” It’s the question he ponders on the closing track, Life: The Biggest Troll, “Where’s the line between Donnie G and Gambino?”
“Who am I?” might have been the question Glover dealt with when he wrote an open letter on hotel stationary and released it to the world via Instagram. The posts reveal Glover’s intimate thoughts, “I’m scared I never knew anything,” “I hate caring what people think,” “I feel like I’m letting everyone down,” and “I’m afraid I’m here for nothing.” All these thoughts seem to grapple with each other within Glover’s mind as Because the Internet plays out.
These thoughts take center stage on No Exit. The song serves as a soundtrack to a sleepless night fueled by Glover’s doubts and worries. A claustrophobic bass pounds as Glover’s mind wanders aimlessly, “Can’t sleep/3 a.m., stare at the ceiling, murder the feeling/spider crawl in the corner, brown recluse.” The following track Death By Numbers, serves as a psychedelic instrumental segue into the next group of songs, I. Flight of the Navigator, II. Zealots of Stockholm, and III. Urn.
This trio of songs opens up with Flight of the Navigator, a utopian soundscape, set off by a impossibly gentle acoustic guitar riff, Glover shares his dream, “I was flying over all of us/so many pretty faces/I talked to some birds, I fell in love again/and none of us ever ended,” Glover goes on to sing a verse, “hold me close my darling,” he repeats as the soundscape behind him swells. The lack of rapping on the track further exacerbates the futility of labeling Glover’s work, thus reprising the question, “Who am I?”
Zealots of Stockholm, takes a drastic turn from the beautiful dream world Glover created “We used to be unspoken, now everything is broken,” as a jarring beat switch up takes the track from dream to nightmare in seconds. The driving bass takes center stage, “Heathen. It’s a struggle just to keep breathing/Existential asthmatic,” once again Glover is alone with his thoughts.
The slow burning Urn sees Glover in an R&B mood, serenading an unknown lover, “let me hold you in my arms, forevermore.” A departure from the paranoia fueled, nearly apocalyptic track before it. The shift in mood comes almost too quickly. Furthermore, Urn is followed by the almost too peppy hook to Pink Toes, “rainbows, sunshine everywhere I go.”
How does Glover shift so quickly between the dark thoughts that won’t let him sleep, to rainbows and sunshine everywhere he goes?
"Because the Internet" is the answer. Glover’s Because the Internet represents a generation raised by the world wide web – the generation plagued by sleepless nights and bleak outlooks thanks to the amount of information at our fingertips. The same generation that responds to the negativity of the world by “turning up” and pushing things out of our mind’s eyes in an admittedly futile attempt, because we can’t simply ignore the cold hard facts that life is tough. But it doesn’t hurt to try.
Because the Internet can be summed up by its cover, an expressionless Glover with a soul penetrating stare. Not happy, not sad either, just there. The same face many of us might make as we stare at a screen sending "lol’s" to our friends or sending a way too heartfelt and way too late at night Facebook message.
–review by CARLOS NAVA