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How 'Because the Internet' marked a turn in Childish Gambino’s narrative

Trey Alston

 // Dec 10, 2018

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any other agency, organization, employer or company.


Childish Gambino's commercial journey began in 2011 with the release of Camp -- and the bowl of cereal came with rotten milk. His independent mixtapes Sick Boi, Poindexter; and the pair of I Am Just a Rapper and I Am Just A Rapper 2 were parts of a prelude to Donald Glover's mainstream rap coming out party. He was a Kanyestorian who was nerdy, wondrous, and obtusely introspective. Camp was a controversial mix of bad rhymes, terrible conclusions, and bad music. His brand of intelligent comedy that was evident in his sitcom "Community" was mishandled in its transfer to the album. Gambino positioned naysayers of his brand of rap as fans of gangster rap instead which, for some reason, was uncool. He also spent a lot of time convincing the listeners that his repressed memories of being shunned by the black community made him proud to fit in with white friends instead.

As abysmal as it was, the main takeaway from it was that Gambino was upset. He stumbled around while figuring out what kind of rapper he wanted to be. His name came from the Wu-Tang name generator, if that's any indicator of how aloof he was. Camp arrived with a glimmering buzz. So, the rage contained within it seemed sensible to him, but more annoying than anything to everyone else. His determination to declare himself the voice of reason amongst naysayers who obviously weren't in tune with their original sides shied away from the actual quality of the music being good. Gambino's 2012 mixtape, Royalty, worked to erase the sour aftertaste of the album by delivering a wide assortment of both snarky and hard-hitting music that proved he could strike gold when he wanted, but that he was still creatively fluctuating.



When Because the Internet dropped, Gambino had just signed on to create "Atlanta" for FX. The show's latent ability to showcase the magic surrealism in a city of movers and shakers was first reflected in Gambino's sophomore album. There's a spirit that runs throughout, unlike anything found on Camp. His previous album was dark with its obsession with kindling. This one, by comparison, was light. What it lacked in thematic heft, it made up with its scattered, yet cohesive narrative. As he revealed to MTV, Gambino got the title of the album from Beck who believed that everything in modern culture came from the web. It's true, our society is a physical manifestation of the internet's many winding corridors, where pop culture is forged and made. Gambino's album divorced him from his nerd energy and thrusted him into a much larger space of creativity.

Because the Internet was a major rewrite in the composition of Gambino – effectively killing the anti-race whiner obsessed with ruffling feathers. It started with the promotional campaign that enabled him to expose his darkest thoughts realistically through Instagram posts detailing his fears. He, then, released Clapping for the Wrong Reasons; a short film that acted as a teaser for the album. Soon came a 76-page screenplay that was interwoven into the album itself. The protagonist, referred to as The Boy, is wealthy. But, that's beside the point. Through his shenanigans, Gambino becomes entranced with the phrase "Roscoe's Wetsuit." In real life, after a hiatus prior to announcing the new album, Gambino tweeted the phrase. Then, he made it a point to retweet anyone else saying it, as well. The mystery is never solved, but the album's music is meant to be played at strategic points.



Through 19 tracks, Gambino tells a story that -- when paired with the screenplay -- creates a thrilling experience. Each track is vividly realized and, although they encompass a larger story, create unique microcosms of relatable ideas that in addition to sounding good, help contextualize the story. "II.Worldstar" is The Boy's fixation in the script. On the album, the track serves as a biting commentary on how stupid internet fame really is through the lens of a website that creates viral moments. "Telegraph Ave" is a moving R&B song that begins with The Boy singing a svelte Lloyd tune before evolving into a karaoke impression that explodes into gushing fears of a girl he's interested in. "Pink Toes" is a song about the honeymoon status of relationships that's really about The Boy, his love interest Naomi, and the life of a drug dealer. What appears to be a technically sound body of work that is as wide reaching as it is polished, really fits into the narrative like a hand into a personalized glove. Because the Internet received near-universal acclaim for both the quality of the music presented and its manner of combining the visual with the audio.

Gambino signed on to create "Atlanta" for FX in July, Because the Internet came in October. The shift in mindset to create the show impacted the album making process because if you would have told anyone in 2011 that Gambino would go from Camp to Because the Internet, they would have first asked who Gambino was and then, laughed in your face. "Atlanta" wouldn't premiere until 2016, but the wait was worth it. The intelligent, tongue-in-cheek comedy that relies on awkward humor and an expectation to laugh internally; not necessarily out loud, plays like Because the Internet the movie. The show has won two Golden Globe Awards and two Primetime Emmys (Glover won it for Outstanding Directing for a Comedy Series and it was the first ever to be awarded to an African-American) so far.

"Atlanta" gets rave reviews because it constantly re-invents itself and plays with expectations. There's an episode that creepily pokes at Michael Jackson's tough upbringing ("Teddy Perkins"). Another episode explores the simultaneous struggle of avoiding a lustful pestering presence, while looking for a way to appease attention on social media. Since the release of the show, Gambino's music has similarly been as explorative, as well. He released a full departure from backpack rap in 2016 with Awaken, My Love! The funk-worshipping opus showcases Gambino's ability to twist and warp his voice with startling efficacy; capturing stunning falsettos and lush, cosmic shouts. He released "This is America" in May; digging deep into gun violence, mass shootings, and the plight of the black mind with a video that was a theatric representation of everything wrong with this country. In July, Gambino released "Feels Like Summer," which features cartoon depictions of rap's biggest names partaking in different activities while he walks obliviously listening to music about global warming. His intelligent, tongue-in cheek persona has made him perhaps rap's most interesting voice. The world eagerly awaits his next move.



Because the Internet is five years old. Childish Gambino came into the rap game and withered away with Camp. This was the proper coming out party for Donald Glover the rapper and creative. The failure of his first album was needed because it allowed him to dig past the surface and discover a way to channel his weirdness. The result was music weirder and sexier, stuff that you could sing along to without turning the car stereo down when you park at a stop light. "Atlanta" is a direct reflection of Gambino's refined growth with Because the Internet. What's next will be even bigger, more socially aware and, of course, stranger than anything that Gambino's ever done. The star managed to remake the narrative being written about him and, since then, has never looked back. As he grows into a pop culture icon that captivates the masses, Because the Internet will grow into a relic for what artists have to gain by throwing caution to the wind and exploring new sounds.


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