It’s hard to tell if Donald Glover is having a good year or a bad year. He left the goofball NBC show Community that gave him an in with your parents. He Instagrammed a series of notes on Marriott stationary in which he said things like, “This is the first time I’ve felt helpless.” But he also got some screen time on Chance The Rapper‘s game-changing Acid Rap, released a short film, Clapping For The Wrong Reasons, and made this new record. And because his 2011 LP, Camp, was lauded and mocked in equal parts, Because The Internet has Glover coming out swinging his fists and shielding his eyes in equally equal parts.
As Childish Gambino, Donald Glover is like the most annoying person on your Facebook feed. Because The Internet has Glover saying things you wished you’d never hear again (“Ain’t nobody got time for that”) and dropping half-bad jokes (“Every marriage is a same sex marriage: same sex every day”). And he’s worried about people not returning his text messages (“I coulda died like my iPhone”). Social media is Gambino’s gimmick, and he knows it. Witness this, in WORLDSTAR: “Put ‘shrooms in my roommate’s coffee/Got more likes than a white girl talking.” Track names like earth: the oldest computer and life: the biggest troll bring to mind easily dismissed tweets.
But Because The Internet is not easily dismissible, because it’s so self-awarely annoying. It trips over its own feet hoping the cool kids will roll their eyes at it, because behind those eye rolls is a jealousy that Gambino can fall with such nonchalance. After the silent-turntable six seconds that is the entire opening track, crawl opens with slasher-flick samples and Gambino talking about hastags in a robot voice. WORLDSTAR features a hollowed-out xylophone-like beat and stadium chanting while Gambino keeps his flow mellow and monotone. Then his annoying side rears its head when he stops the track to do that tongue-propelled machine gun b-llllll-ttttt noise over and over and over again. It’s like someone interrupting you and spitting while they talk.
Album single the worst guys is easily the most immediately likeable track, featuring a soundbite from Sister, Sister (“Go home, Roger”) and a sashaying beat like a day off from work on a sunny day. Unsurprisingly, it’s also one of the album’s most frustrating tracks, because it features Chance The Rapper but no Chance verse. But let’s be honest, if I were Gambino, I wouldn’t want Chance stealing my spotlight either, so I would also just use a really lame guitar solo to fill up space. Because The Internet also has Gambino doing awkward sexy in Shadows, where you can hear him nervously swallowing before the track ends in a wall of Star Trek beats and mashed up samples. Sweatpants uses a wide-eyed yo-yoing beat and a faraway “Woo!” like something off a Jock Jams cassette. Gambino’s whimpering is tops here, shifting from squeaking squawks to stomach-clenching growls. Buuut, it ends with Gambino flaunting, “Don’t be mad ’cause I’m doing me better than you doin’ you,” which contains a string of uncomfortably late-to-the-party syllables. So close, Donald, so close.
But this isn’t just a toss-away album by a loquacious nerd with some free time. In 3005, Gambino anxiously sputters existential verses about the end of the world. no exit features the line “Please don’t run away/I’m a murderer.” It’s dark and static-y, like being stuck inside a stranger’s trunk. flight of the navigator has Gambino monologuing through a Vocoder like a reflective serial killer at the end of a BBC special. But even though Because The Internet is kind of strange and kind of a bummer, it does show Glover’s range as a musician. He’s not just some dude dropping ’90s Disney Channel references. He’s a guy who’s a little bit nervous, full of good ideas he’s not quite sure what to do with and a dude dropping ’90s Disney Channel references. And if none of this makes sense to you, you can just read the companion screenplay for the album that Gambino just put up online. Maybe that last sentence is a better indicator of who Donald Glover aims to be than anything else.