What a difference five months makes. When Childish Gambino (aka Donald Glover aka Troy from Community) last played Terminal 5, he was an unannounced guest in a Bacardi event that also featured Kid Cudi. Last night, he played to a sell-out crowd that was there for him. And boy, were they there. The crowd was an extension of Gambino, a mass of dudes and ladies singing along with every geeky rap. It’s an important month for the rapper/actor/comedian: his debut album, Camp, comes out this month via Glassnote, and based off the reaction from the crowd, the new songs will find a home on many an iTunes library.
The lead single from Camp was easily the night’s best-received track, perhaps due to the Hot-97 endorsement earlier this year or perhaps due to it containing some of the more memorable one-liners from the new material: “So this rap is child’s play/I do my name like Princess Di” shines as one of the best lines Gambino has spit. “Heartbeat” sounds like a mix of Justice, Daft Punk’s TRON soundtrack and Gambino’s own “Lights Turned On”. It’s a weird mix that seems to only work when blasted at full volume. The 90s west coast-inspired beat on “Fire Fly” was pleasant enough during the encore to pacify the crowd waiting to hear an old track that it knew by heart.
It was that material that came off as most organic and simply fun. Whereas the new material might be weighing on Donald, his previous material is road-tested and fan-loved. Remember, this is a rapper who relies on being under-appreciated by many but loved by few. His most famous song to date, “Freaks And Geeks”, came early in the set, but it served to warm up the crowd’s sing-along voices. The now-traditional “Rolling In The Deep (Remix)” works due to the synergy between Gambino’s rap and John Legend’s prerecorded turn as the British singer (a turn that Mr. Legend blows out of the water). “Lights Turned On” continues to be the song that elicits the wildest reactions and it did not disappoint last night. The final song before the mandatory encore, it created a mosh-dance hybrid on the floor. Energy was not lacking.
And so where does Childish Gambino go from here? As he sings on the final track of the night, “Not Going Back”, he will not return to being a rapper second in his own mind. He’s Childish Gambino, and he’s here to stay. His new tracks may not be as idiosyncratic in their melding of girls and geek, but they have an appeal that is almost tailor-made for a sold-out-in-3-hours night at Terminal 5. Next time, it might only take one hour.