On June 3rd of this year, during his set at the Governor’s Ball, Childish Gambino (AKA Donald Glover) announced that the next album would be his last, ostensibly to depart from hip-hop as well as the former persona in favour of his latter identity. Fans were sent into a frenzy. And rightfully so. Anyone would despair at the loss of someone they cherish to the point of fandom. But fans should also applaud the retirement of Gambino’s musical endeavours. Because if history has proven anything, it’s that Glover is only going to get bigger and better.
If you were to open the Wikipedia page of any modern entertainment personality, you’d be hard pressed to find an individual who was just one thing. Musicians also model, models become actors, actors dabble as comedians, comedians are also writers, and writers graduate into directing—the list goes on. Donald Glover, the man behind the Gambino, represents the pinnacle of this “X” slash “Y” mentality, or what some have dubbed “the multi-hyphenate”.
For the uninitiated, Glover’s impressive and varied resume did not start at screen actor/rapper. Comedy was his first ambition, having joined the sketch group, Derrick Comedy in the early 2000s. Derrick Comedy was responsible for some of the earliest viral videos in a pre-viral world. In 2006, Glover reached a pivotal point in his career when he was scouted by Tina Fey to become a writer for acclaimed comedy series 30 Rock. It was there he was given the occasional cameo, which would later snowball into more significant roles. In 2009, he landed a breakout screen role on comedy series Community. On the same day as its televised debut, Glover released Pointdexter, his first independent album. He would retain this part on Community until leaving on his own accord half-way through the show’s fifth season, around the same time Because the Internet was brought into the world. Throughout it all, he managed to revisit his stand-up comedy pursuits. Note how each exit is marked by the beginning of greater projects.
We should not be so shocked about this departure from hip-hop, because it already happened a while ago. Examining his latest album, Awaken, My Love!, it is clear from the first track that this is not the Gambino we knew from Because the Internet, nor any other iteration before that. It was a very clear divergence from the bars being spat on tracks like “Sweatpants” or “Worldstar”, or even the lyrics crooned on tracks like “Pink Toes” or “Telegraph Ave. (“Oakland” by Lloyd)”. From a purely taxological standpoint, it was funk, psychedelic, soul, and RNB. But that isn’t the main point to be made.
When it all comes down to it, Glover/Gambino/Whatever-you-want-to-call-him is ultimately a storyteller. The form and medium in which they appear may vary, but it’s always a part of him. His comedy tells us about his childhood, the subtle neuroses in is everyday life. His writing is a reflection of his sensibilities and ambitions. His music is the embodiment of the rawest, surface emotions; of love, of loss, of happiness, and of heartbreak. Glover cannot be contained under one label, because there is simply too much of him to stay within the lines, and too broad of a story to be summarized in three acts. Why would we and should we expect him to stay put?
Beyond that, the absence of Gambino doesn’t necessarily mean the absence of the idea surrounding Gambino either. Prior to Awaken, My Love!, from the end of Camp to Because the Internet to STN MTN/Kaui all followed the same narrative of his alter-alter ego, “The Boy”. This was most notably fleshed out in the companion screenplay and short film that accompanied Because the Internet. It can be argued that the fresh, award winning series he helms, Atlanta, is both a spiritual and aesthetic sequel to his music. The character of “The Boy” may be altered to a cosmetic degree, but the philosophy and stylistic choices intrinsic to Glover/Gambino are still very much there. A number of the same technical talent such as director Hiro Murai have had a hand in both worlds.
So, what now? That is a valid question, but more importantly, it’s an exciting one. This is definitely a change, and while change is never inherently good nor bad (“… it simply is…” – Don Draper), this is an exception to the rule. Donald Glover/Childish Gambino is one aspect of the personality that doesn’t need the slash, because they are essentially one in the same. And as we have tracked his artistic evolution, it can only be concluded that the cocoon he leaves behind while a thing to be missed will soon be overshadowed by the amazement brought on as a result of his next project. Gambino may be leaving hip-hop behind, a but that doesn’t matter. He is a storyteller first and foremost, and an actor/comedian/writer/rapper/singer/producer second.