Everyone’s favorite part of the holidays is Christmas vacation. Whether you’re studying in college, or still in high school stuck at your parents crib, Christmas break means no getting up early, no exams, and no homework. It’s when you can take some time and read a book of your choice or fully appreciate an album; maybe get to experience a whole body of work. That’s what Childish Gambino had in mind when he decided to release Because The Internet on winter break.
For the last six months or so, Gambino has been building an alternate realm in preparation for this release. Back in July (remember when it wasn’t snowing) Gambino put out “Centipede” hinting that new music was on the way. “Centipede” hit all the blogs, and whether or not it was his intention, it put Childish Gambino back in the hip hop world.
The following month Gambino dropped the abstract short film “Clapping For the Wrong Reasons.” It featured porn star Abella Anderson, Chance the Rapper, Trinidad James, and even Danielle Fishel of “Boy Meets World” fame. It dropped without much context but the scenes featuring recording sessions indicated it was more about his music than acting.
Then the Instagram posts happened. Donald Glover put out his innermost feelings on Marriott Inn post-its. Things like, “I’m afraid of the future. I’m afraid my parents won’t live long enough to see my kids. I’m afraid my show will fail. I’m scared my girl will get pregnant at not the exact time we want. I’m scared I’ll never reach my potential. I’m afraid she’s still in love w/ that dude.” You know all the things you don’t expect you’re favorite rapper to put on public display. It led many to believe he was depressed – and maybe he was.
This narrative created by Gambino, intentionally or coincidentally, caught the attention of rap fans and critics alike. After Royalty no one was paying attention to Gambino. Some thought (and others hoped) his rap career was just a hobby that ended with Tina Fey refusing to say “nigga” on a song. Community was back on and he had inked a deal with FX to make his own show. Why would he come back to the mic?
Then things somewhat came into perspective. A short video was released of Gambino floating face down in his pool (possibly dead) with a new freestyle “Yaphet Kotto” in the background. When the screen turns to black it says, “Because The Internet – Winter Break.” Possibly a conclusion to all of the weird shit he’s been doing.
Leading up to the release things went as they should for an artist dropping a new project, but with Gambino’s own flavor. He had listening sessions, but they were impromptu ones in public parks. He threw mansion parties throughout the country where he performed the album live. New singles “3005,” “Sweatpants,” and “Telegraph Ave” all dropped but at very specific times. When “Sweatpants” dropped early Gambino tweeted:
“I’m pissed this song was not supposed to come out tonight.”
“I’m trying to create one of the more imaginative rollouts, and other people’s lust for money and impatience is ruining it.”
From the short movie, to the mansion quasi-listening parties, to depressing Instagram posts it all truly had a purpose. At the end of last week he came out with what is probably the most instrumental piece to the experience he was creating.
Donald Glover wrote an accompanying screenplay for the album. It follows a boy, presumably Glover, who’s life is meaningless. As a blogger, writer, tweeter of gossip, his days consist of going around with his friends driving expensive cars and trying to hook up with hot girls. Although the boy is rich, everything around him is worthless.
The screenplay illustrates Glover’s acute sense of detail. It starts off informing you that Clapping For the Wrong Reasons is a prelude to what you’re about to read. It tells the reader what to listen to while reading, it offers breaks for simply watching a silent video, it sets detailed scenery. It features a flash drive that fans can get with the album that supplies more information about the world Gambino is creating. The dude did not just write some dialogue and say it goes along with the album. He wrote a full screenplay that interacts with the music. Every song on Because The Internet is featured on the screenplay and has an important place in the story.
The final piece of the puzzle is the actual album itself. Alone, it’s a solid project that should make critics take him seriously. It givess insight into the Internet from someone who’s career was birthed due to it. A highly intelligent dude looking at what the Internet’s doing to us as a society; it helped him but also hurts all of us.
Musically, Gambino has learned to do what he’s best at – singing. His nasally raps have been substituted with more confident swagger. He has created his own lane in hip hop where he alone works. Songs like “Shadows” have a Frank Ocean feel, whereas “WORLDSTAR” sounds more like Migos – but at the end it’s all Gambino, and it’s very good.
What’s important in all of this is the attention to creativity, transparency, and interaction. Over the course of the last six months or so, Gambino has been slowly crafting a world for us to experience with him. His openness on Instagram may seem emo but what better way to connect with fans. While most rappers show stacks and Gucci, his world dares to be more truthful. Writing a script to go along with the album, (something so Yeezus – Kanye must be livid) that takes the listener/reader on a journey that most albums fail to do. Denying industry heads their open bar, and instead doing listening sessions for the fans? The time and detail that has been put in to this project is bar none. Winter break just might not be enough time to take it all in. Be warned.