I resisted listening to this album for a long time, because yay another actor made a hip-hop album. We all remember that Jamie Foxx fiasco from a few years ago and who could forget William Shatner’s disastrous foray into making awful, if not comical, music for the masses. Then I started hearing rumblings. My friend Amanda started tweeting endlessly about how good the album was and while I love Amanda, our styles aren’t always necessarily intertwined. So, again, I procrastinated.
You see my plate is full of albums I’m supposed to be listening to. I’m supposed to listen to albums to decide whether or not they are good enough to review or shitty enough to review. Lately, there seems to be a plethora of material coming my way and while I welcome that material, some of it is shall we say less than satisfactory. I watch Donald Glover on the NBC show Community and while I do enjoy his character and his little end of show vignettes with Danny Pudi, I still find it less than appealing for actors to do music as well.
Here’s the thing about that…no I’ll put it in a way you can understand. Keanu Reeves, Bruce Willis, Jack Wagner, Russell Crowe, Kevin Costner, Jamie Foxx, Jared Leto, Kevin Bacon, Steven Seagal, Billy Bob Thorton, Jada Pinkett Smith (she was in a scream-o band), Dennis Quaid, Johnny Depp, Hugh Laurie and Michael “Fucking” Cera (proper name). All of these actors are or were in bands as well. What is the common denominator of all these bands? They suck. You’ll notice I did not name Zooey Deschanel, Jason Schwartzman or Jeff Bridges. Why, pre tell did I not throw them into the shitpile? Because their bands are/were good. Phantom Planet gets a bum rap from critics because their song “California” was the theme song to The OC. She & Him are a great little act and I will never say one bad word about The Dude. Never!
So percentage wise it doesn’t usually merit even a listen when actors make an album. It’s just a circumstance of having a combination of money and too much time that makes an actor say, “Fuck it, I like music and I’m famous, maybe I can make some side dough on another creative outlet.” That is not a good reason to make music. Now, we come back to Childish Gambino, who, incidentally, got his name from a Wu-Tang Clan app, which doesn’t surprise me in the least.
Finally, the cries of awesomeness were just too much to bear and I relented. I listened to it once and thought okay this isn’t bad. I saw Kanye West and Eminem influences in the music and I love both rappers, so that was a plus. Then I listened again and delved into it a little more lyrically and understood where he was going: it’s honest, epic and funny. My favorite track, and really it wasn’t close, was “Heartbeat.” For some reason, it reminded me of “Every Breath You Take” by The Police. I don’t know why, it just had that feeling, that desperation about it. I know that feeling. That “what the fuck are we” emptiness when you’re the guy the girl cheats on her boyfriend with.
I am not a hip-hop connoisseur. I think it’s been muddled and watered down so much that there are only a few great MCs around anymore. Lupe Fiasco, Wiz Khalifa, Theophilus London these guys are the new breed and now I think you can add Childish Gambino to that mix. Unless, of course, this is a one off. The biggest relief is that he didn’t go PG. To coin a particularly overused phrase, he “kept it real.” I wanted to hate it, but how can you hate something that makes you want to move like a hyena on crack? It’s a fantastic album and is far better than anything that Degrassi hack Drake is vomiting out these days. Get it, you can thank me later.