Review: Childish Gambino 'Because The Internet' - One Of 2013's Most Ambitious Albums
December 10th, 2013 3:10pm EST
The saying in basketball is “you live by the three, you die by the three.” What does a basketball saying have to do with a hip-hop you ask? Well, instead of living or dying from shot selection, Childish Gambino (Donald Glover) thrives more often than not from his ambition on his 2013 effort Because of the Internet. Just how ambitious is this affair that hails from the same label that houses Mumford and Sons? Well, it is accompanied by 75-page script featured on the site http://becausetheinter.net. Ultimately, I appreciate Gambino’s willingness to go outside of the box in what sometimes can be a very single dimensional genre only concerned with materialistic things. That said, if there is a rub, it is that Because The Internet is overambitious and sometimes requires multiple listens to completely comprehend. Still, isn’t that part of the fun of a conceptual affair?
I won’t rely on Gambino’s script for this review – you can seek that out for yourself (“ain’t nobody got time for that!”, LOL). But following the anticipatory intro “The Library”, things kick off in, well, WTF mode. From a first listen, deciphering “I. Crawl” is an adventure because it isn’t what the ear expects, period. Because of its uniqueness, it is incredibly appealing after a couple of spins. Gambino contributes plenty of solid lyrics, many filled with clever pop-cultural allusions. In verse one, he slaughters from the onset, eventually referencing Clarissa Explains It All: “Who am I? / Rec League, I ain’t payin’ to ball / y’all B-string like a broke guitar / and I still put it down like the family dog / Yeah I murder some, I murder one / explain it all Ferguson.” Verse two continues to ‘murder’ as Gambino “…scorch[es] winters, I burn autumns / gut n***as, so Kurt Vonne / Elle Varner, got a crush on her / I gotta wait in line for that / ain’t nobody got time for that…” Far-reaching, “Crawl” is a gem.
“II. Worldstar” is no slouch itself, sporting hardcore production work and electrifying rhymes from Gambino. “Blow up / World Star before rap / you already know that / so Fresh Prince, they are about to bring the show back,” CG raps, arguably referencing his acting career prior to rap (Community being his big claim to fame). He’s edgier when talking about his “girl” on the second verse in which he spits “My girl ain’t bad, she more like evil… on Hollywood and Vine / thinkin’ that she Hollywood on Vine / Making movies with her friends all the time / showin’ off her a$$, that’s a net twerk / but I saw through it like a wet shirt …” Low blow? Perhaps, but CG’s word play is undeniable; Donald Glover can rap.
Following a brief 0:44 interlude “Dial Up”, Gambino taps Chance The Rapper for one of the album’s best, “I. The Worst Guys.” Just how bad are these dudes? Well, they leave a cliffhanger on the hook, but it’s obvious where they’re going (“All she needed was some…”). Throughout, CG alludes to the ‘three-letter word’ throughout his verses: “At a Clippers game on the courtside / watch a n***a shoot like a 4-5 / they mad at me too, I got more fire / when these b**ches see you, ‘go home, Roger’.” Yep, you got it; it’s a Sister Sister allusion. Later, Gambino gets rawer, bragging about “…a ménage and murdered the… but, afterwards, it was awkward… I couldn’t finish, got the Uber from her place…” He ends up smoking and “listening to the neighbors” after his sexual mishap… read into that how you wish.
“II. Shadows” possesses a quicker pace than “The Worst Guys”, with a more soulful, driving groove. S-E-X is still on the brain, as Gambino keeps it simple on the hook: “Tuesday afternoon, I ain’t got sh*t to do / but fall in love with you / love me better, kiss me back, listen more…” If that wasn’t enough, he makes the obligatory Jay-Z and Beyoncé power couple reference, though detours twistedly in the same line when he raps “…My aunt say ‘keep the sex game picante’ / the Aunt May and Mary Jane that I was hitting on / we were trying to forget that there was something wrong…” Um Yeah… Like many other cuts, there is a production switch-up, which keeps things fresh and very much alt-minded.
“III. Telegraph Ave. (“Oakland” by Lloyd)” fits this effort as perfectly as everything else because of its unorthodox nature. R&B singer Lloyd handles the first portion of this cut, before Childish Gambino takes over. He references the album title and theme within his rapped verse: “All the girlfriends saying ‘ here we go again’ / rich kid but he act like a gentleman / last one didn’t end like it should’ve been / tow dates and he still wanna get it in / and you’re saying it’s because of the Internet / try once again and it’s on to the next chick / X-O the O face on your exes right…”
Child Gambino is on autopilot on both “Sweatpants”, featuring Problem, and on promo single “3005.” The most memorable line from “Sweatpants” has to be the repeated gem “Rich kid, a$$hole: paint me as a villain”. Gambino confirms he’s an “a-hole”, epitomized by his cocky, confidence (“Don’t be mad cause I’m doing me better than you doing you…” or “I’m winning so they had to dump the Gatorade / and I don’t give a f**k ‘bout my family name”). On “3005”, Childish Gambino is dedicated through the end of time – specifically year 3005 – to his boo. “…F**k these other n***as, I’ll be right by your side / ‘til 3005, hol’ up,” he proclaims on the hook. Gambino playfully illustrates the ‘play’ between him and his ‘ride or die’, which is, well bold. Ultimately, “Sweatpants” and “3005” make a sick, one-two punch.
“Playing Around Before the Party Starts” is literal; there is only a piano playing, LOL. “I. The Party” the follows is pretty brief, but despite being only a minute and a half in length, it allures. How does CG cap it off? Like this: “I invite all these people to my mother f**kin’ house / Get the f**k out of my house!” After the party comes a horrible druggy, mental state of sorts, via “II. No Exit.” The focus of the track’s protagonist is a spider… specifically a “brown recluse”. The spider itself doesn’t seem important, but what’s more disturbing is just how f**ked up Gambino sounds here; he literally has “no exit” mentally. Of course, brief instrumental interlude “Death By Numbers” proceeds… hmm. Yet another suite follows.
“I. Flight of the Navigator” is all about love and romance. Honestly, if you’d heard the earlier “Worst Guys”, you’d wonder if this was the same guy. “Just hold me close my darling,” Gambino sings on this alt-R&B number. Hey, emo-rap is the new gangsta, right? If “Flight of the Navigator” was too ‘sensitive’, “II. Zealots of Stockholm [Free Information]” is easily the album’s most manic and possibly creative showing. At first, it seems that Gambino seems content slated in the alt-R&B/alt-rap sub-style, but a change of pace makes what seems to be a predictable cut much more unpredictable. After rapping, even more surprises grace “Zealots” including an uncredited female guest spot, and another production switch-up. Gambino’s second verse yields some of his best rhymes: “Heathen, it is a struggle just to keep breathing / existential asthmatic, puff puff pass addict… making moves but they sleeping on me / we can kick it like it’s FIFA, homie…” He even gets socially conscious: “I never understood the hate on a n***a’s preference / when every marriage is a same sex marriage / same sex everyday, monotonous…” “Zealots” rocks. “III. Urn”, an interlude, closes the album’s final suite.
Three tracks remain on Because of the Internet. “Pink Toes” finds Gambino collaborating exceptionally with Jhené Aiko. “Pink Toes” ends up being fascinating because basically the protagonist is ‘slanging’ drugs and his girl (played by Aiko) rides with him regardless. Gambino and Aiko seem to have similar attitudes, perhaps best summed up by the outro: “I never worry ‘bout it / I have my n***a count it / she’s dressed up in gold…” On “Earth: The Oldest Computer”, the memorable year 3005 returns once more: “3005, the year that we fear, only God will survive / to be alone is alive.” Most unique (or odd) about this track is a guest spot by the brash Azelia Banks, who is controlled here…
Closer “Life: The Biggest Troll” has one of the more interesting hooks of the year as follows: “Andrew Auernheimer / pulling on her weave / it’s that Andrew Auernheimer.” Who is Mr. Auernheimer you ask? He is famous hacker known by the name weev; there has been plenty of press in regards to Auernheimer. This allusion definitely matches the title of the effort, Because the Internet. While the internet and weev are both associated with ‘trolling’, Gambino considers life itself and perhaps even his character within this narrative to be the biggest troll. “Man made the web, you don’t need a name / man made of faults, I ain’t too ashamed… trolling, trolling, trolling these n***as /rick rolling these n***as, they mad cause they don’t know any better…” As ambitious and perhaps even as confounding as other cuts, “Life: The Biggest Troll” closes Because the Internet exceptionally.
Ultimately, Because the Internet ends up being one of the year’s more interesting, creative efforts. While it overreaches with its script and concept, there is plenty of wealth for the listener, particularly the multidimensional listener to embrace. Childish Gambino is an incredibly underrated MC and musician, but he shouldn’t be following this enjoyable affair.
Favorites:“I. Crawl”; “I. The Worst Guys”; “IV. Sweatpants”; “V. 3005”; “II. Zealots of Stockholm”; “Pink Toes”
Verdict: ★★★★Childish Gambino • Because The Internet • Glassnote • US Release Date: December 10, 2013
Photo Credits: Glassnote