Somewhere in North Hollywood right now, there is a failed actor in his 50s wearing loose-fitting pants, shoes only available at Samuel French, and a faded salmon tank top. He’s standing in front of a group of hapless “actors” who have foolishly signed up for his class, because “it was a good deal,” and “Well, you gotta be in class.”
At some point between his incredibly affected monologues and “industry advice” he will undoubtedly say something like, “to make it in this industry you’ve got to be a Triple Threat!” He’ll then strike poses to accentuate each threat–gross. The term triple threat has been around as long as bad acting teachers and typically means, acting, singing & dancing–three skills every true “actor” should possess, because these are the tools of trade. But maybe this term is a bit outdated.
Perhaps what he should really be telling these attractive waiters is, to make it in this industry, you’ve got to be a Donald Glover. The actor known musically as Childish Gambino is freakishly (and geekishly) multi-talented. He wrote for 30 Rock right out of college and stayed with the show for two of its Emmy-winning seasons. He’s a hilarious as Troy Barnes on NBC’s Community and when he takes to the stage as Childish Gambino, he doesn’t come across as a comedian doing a hip-hop comedy act, or an actor giving rapping a shot. He comes across as a sick emcee with solid production, a ferocious cadence and enough clever wordplay to make even the most seasoned hip-hop snobs at least pay attention.
“Childish Gambino” is a silly name created by a Wu-Tang Clan name generator website. The name itself speaks to Glover’s seemingly cavalier approach to the rap game while simultaneously belying the underlying efforts and serious work that he’s been putting in to becoming a solid hip-hop artist.
Childish Gambino doesn’t really make pop music although his flow is peppered with more pop culture references than a SportsCenter marathon. He makes rap music. His songs aren’t radio friendly. They don’t have super-catchy hooks. Many don’t even have hooks at all. They just have verse after verse of Glover’s wit, bite and some very well founded swagger.
The lack of commercial appeal in his music isn’t unique in itself. After all, there are loads of underground rappers that don’t pander to the masses. But typically when an actor, NBA player, or someone else who is already famous crosses over into music, they’re doing it for more money and more fame. Glover seems to just be doing it because he loves rapping. Gambino comes across as a kid who grew up on hip-hop, and yet his flow seems far more influenced by current rappers than the dominant forces of the 80s & 90s. Lots of critics hear some Kanye and Lil’ Wayne in his delivery, but those aren’t a bad pair to channel into your work.
While Gambino will never catapult to the level of those two, at least in the rap world, he’s still a heavy weight talent and his show deserves your eyes and ears. He even dances a little bit too–truly a triple threat.
You can catch Childish Gambino on both Saturdays of Coachella.