Already a successful comedian, Donald Glover wants to be just as successful as a rapper under his moniker, Childish Gambino. But can he survive the big boy’s game of music and be taken seriously or will he sink miserably?

Words: Jason Weintraub

If you’re a fan of NBC’s Thursday night programming, then you may already know talented actor/comedian Donald Glover. No relation to Danny Glover, Donald stars in the NBC hit show Community, where the Stone Mountain, Georgia raised military brat plays Troy Barnes, a former high school football star turned Greendale Community College student with a keen interest in interpretive dance. In real life, Glover is probably most known among college-somethings for his off-the-wall antics as one-third of the sketch comedy crew Derrick Comedy. Founded while students at New York University and training at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, the crew’s videos have already hit over a hundred million views since going viral just a few years ago, and helped spark the release of their first feature-length film Mystery Team in 2009.

More recently, as luck would have it alongside his obvious talent and witty writing style, Donald Glover has carved a new niche for himself as Childish Gambino, a rapper who’s moniker was set in ink thanks to a Wu-Tang Rap name generator. You’d think the joke was on him after hearing that story, yet Donald Glover has caught the attention of comedy and Hip-Hop enthusiasts everywhere. “I don’t call myself anything. I’ve spent most of my life being labeled and I’ve learned that really doesn’t help anyone,” he said in an interview with RapGenius.com.

To be fair, Hip-Hop is no stranger to comedians/actors trying their hand at combining their love of two worlds simultaneously. Andy Samberg and the fellas of The Lonely Island have had plenty of commercial success, squaring millions in album and iTunes sales off the two studio albums they’ve released thus far. Even Adam Sandler’s What the Hell Happened to Me? spent 57 weeks on the Billboard album chart before going certified double platinum. (Dare we mention Eddie Murphy or Nick Cannon?) Whether it’s a spoof, taking a more witty stance on wax or just straight parodies, there is no denying the relationship of comedy and music. As Childish Gambino, Glover is no different, having put out six projects that have also amassed a huge response. Collectively they have set the stage for his upcoming debut album, Camp, which—for those still unfamiliar with his music and are giving us the side eye, scratching their heads, wondering what to expect—promises to be in a different lane from Samberg, Cannon or anyone else for that matter.

If anything, he’s closer to a Will Smith, an actor/comedian who (albeit Smith started as a rapper first) takes both worlds seriously, and pursues both of them relentlessly and separately, regardless of what naysayers might think or blabber. Although the level of respect and street appeal that Gambino is reaching toward with regards to his music seems lie the proverbial Hip-Hop summit that no comedian-rapper has ever reached, really. On his track “The Last,” Gambino tries to separate his two interests and the idea that he’s following in the steps of other comedians turned artists:

“People tell me I should spit under Donald Glover
But I try to keep my real name undercover
Cause if you hear my name, then you think it’s jokes”

Sonically, Gambino is also attempting to separate himself from others by incorporating live instruments, while dipping and dabbing into a variety of genres. That means exploring any sounds between a classic Hip-Hop drum break to a bass-heavy Pop track. He even raps over Indie Rock tracks on his two-part I Am Just A Rapper mixtape, which he released after realizing and admitting his use of them, that gimmicks aren’t a necessary part of Hip-Hip.

But does Glover have what it takes to be taken seriously in the game, while being a funny man online and on TV? A self-admitted Black nerd, Gambino somehow manages to volley words foreign to a non-English major in his lyrics, and his delivery is definitely far from being totally swag-less. His video for “Freaks and Geeks” may be the best at capturing his unique style.

For most newcomers navigating the choppy waters of Hip-Hop these days, there seems to be a need to either swim to distant shores or reinvent the wheel, so that they can tread water as they build a fan base. But that doesn’t seem to be the case for Gambino, who seems hell bent on diving head first. “People are going to see me how they want to see me,” he says in an article with Complex magazine. “It’s like people have been saying it since day one: You got to be this—rappers don’t rap about Tiny Fey? [Laughs.] I’m like, I have to do that, that’s the [my] truth.”

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