I have this recurring dream.
In the dream I turn to my model girlfriend Daisy Lowe at a Childish Gambino show and say, “See, he’s like The Throne and Lonely Island in the same dude!”
Her eyes twinkle before she grabs me, plants a kiss on my lips, and yells out like that adorable Debeers Diamondcommercial, “I love this man! Yes, that’s brilliant! And it’s so sexy to deconstruct it from afar, over being, like, on stage. Seriously! We should just go home and talk more…” followed by a big slow wink and a smile.
Her tights second the motion; the pursed pouty lips are lilting, “thirded.” But I barely notice “the signs” because I’m still dazed and confused thinking about the Throne/Lonely Island dude. It’s really important to me! What the world needs now, the great missing link in the cultural food chain, is an emcee with hot flame-spitting authority whose brains are scrambled with, and this is the tricky part, Chappellian, Galifianakian, Silvermanian irreverence. You know what I mean? Throw some cheese and bacon on that? Hold the grits. The best rappers, for better or worse, are best at a sort of artful-aggression. The best comics sprinkle some crack on all of that silliness. Put that in one person and then maybe locate the Gay Blake Griffin along with whomever is a mix of Kristen Wiig and Beyoncé (call me!) and we’re well on the way to righting the universe. I know this to be true.
“Well? Are we going home to think and talk some more or what?”
Daisy’s flashing our secret “let’s go” signal (if you must know, it’s six blinks in rapid succession followed by crossing her eyes until it hurts. This means ¡Ándele! ¡Ándele!). I look around and all the faces at the concert look like Donald Glover’s. Hmmm, maybe I’ve been thinking about this too much. I give her the nod for departure.
So we’re off! Daisy and I hail a cab. Or rather, she gets the cab and I get in it with her (black dude joke). Inside she puts her head in my lap and I say, “Okay look, I’m going to try not to ramble. I mean it! But real quick, here’s what I think are five crucial questions/issues for Donald.”
She looks up at me like she cares what I have to say, even though in five minutes I know she’s going to fall asleep, and I’m going to wake up. It happens every time. I keep thinking if I get my points out quickly enough maybe she’ll stay and talk to me some more:
Okay, #1, is Donald like Blackcore or not?: Gambino is very black-conscious, but is it for real or for show? I’m down with Glover’s potential as a household name in the lineage of contemporary black-conscious artists like Tribe, Lauryn Hill, Will Smith, Chris Rock, OutKast, Dave Chappelle, The Roots etc. This type of talent can trickle down to the tectonic level of culture and loosen the ground for deep-seated progress (though maybe you just like the music and laughs!). But Donald’s “swing-low” lament goes in and out of tune. Is he comfortable throwing up the fist clad in black leather or not? This is a question because:
#2, Ballad of the Stereotypical Non-stereotypical Black Dude: His lyrics have a lot of e-moaning about being racially pigeonholed, but on a landscape littered with hip-hop hyphenates you want to point to his wings and say fly, little pigeon, fly. Do you. If someone isn’t on board with DG being a rap star, they’re probably just indifferent. Or maybe bored with the stereotypically non-stereotypical black dude routine. Sometimes it feels like he’s pounding on the walls of a box he made for himself. There’s no groundswell for “thug nigga” shit from Childish Gambino. Everyone’s fine, I think. If he were a blog or think piece, his would be a straw man argument. Ultimately all this false melodrama in his lyrics about identity issues distracts us (and more importantly him) from actually venturing into new ground instead of just talking about it.
Daisy Check: fffffff, she’s fading, though mumbling something about me not being a stereotype. (ya heard.) I nudge her to buy some more time, but also because the next thought relates to the ladies.
#3 Isn’t his sexism a little out of character? Rappers play characters that fit the narratives they tell, and so we accept some “Let’s pour nut-juice on all these hoes” from a Rick Ross and others who traffic in this, uh, glamorous? lifestyle. But the self-awareness we love in Donald’s comedy undermines the cum/female-face ratio of his albums. Honestly, who pines for the face your dick constantly uses as a spittoon? Now don’t get me wrong, I’m pro blowjobs. Love ‘em! Rock the Vote for the Blow Jobs/Sex ticket in 2012! But the Gambino-as-playa-playa shtick feels, well, childish; if not weird or disingenuous in a smarmy way.
Daisy perks up for a second. “I’ll show you smarmy!” She’s tickling me.
Stop it, Daisy! Only two more:
#4 is: like, dude, Why So Serious?: Sincerity is a noble conceit in these days and times, but much like interrupting a tickle session with Daisy Lowe, sometimes being too self-serious bogs you down en route to Enjoying Life(™). He may deny how seriously he takes his rap career in interviews because he is smart and humble enough to know better, but you don’t go from Wu-Tang name generator to Rolling Stone on a lark. He means business. And the show-and-prove sincerity shows in the music. There’s talent, but the overall effect is a little sweaty. The best rappers sound effortless, but Gambino’s always turned up to 10. The irony here being that for all the comic pedigree his rap persona is too serious (bordering angry) to be the butt of a joke.
#5 is: Why are Gambino and Glover so different?:
As a hip hop fan, I’m delighted to see a mind like Glover’s in the mix. A potential Joker to hip-hop’s Batman. But it’s also kind of sad to see what he thinks good rap should sound like. How he modifies Donald to service hip-hop. When Gambino grabs the mic and says he’s destroying everyone, it includes the Glover persona we know from his sketches, standup, and internet presence. With the petty humblebrags, sexism, self-inflicted racism (he harpooned this himself, we get it) etc. the concern is that he’s a lesser rapper specifically cause he’s chosen the lesser parts of rap to emulate.
Daisy Check: Aggggh! she’s asleep, which means I’m probably about to wake up.
But that’s the dream, pretty much. I guess it’s only a dream. But it’s been bothering me. Hopefully this helps. At least with the Donald part.