© 2014 Chloe Williams

Donald Glover ≠ Childish Gambino

Childish Gambino In Concert - Detroit, Michigan

When someone hears the name of rapper Childish Gambino, they may not think that the man who it belongs to bears an IMDb page that would make even the most accomplished people in the entertainment industry jealous. The man who this stage name belongs to, given to him by a Wu-Tang Clan name generator, is Donald Glover. Glover has appeared on the cult NBC sitcom Community, as well as received Emmy nominations for his writing on the sitcom 30 Rock. His music under the name of Childish GambinoScreen Shot 2014-12-04 at 3.51.31 PM is often clouded with criticism due to his work as Donald Glover. Glover has a hard time managing his individual careers due to the perceptions about what the typical rap artist should be.

Glover has always been one to manage multiple careers at a time. Childish Gambino was an act that started in college during his time at New York University. Not only was he a resident advisor there, he also created rap songs and worked with an improvisation group. Because of his work with the improv group, he was able to fine-tune his comedic timing, which would later help him create a stand-up comedy career. After college, he went on to write for 30 Rock, a show that helped him earn him some fame in the business. He also worked with a comedy troupe, Derrick Comedy, during this time. The troupe went on to make a movie in 2009, Mystery Team, which Glover acted in, wrote, and produced. In addition to creating the movie, he incorporated his love for music by writing and producing the soundtrack as well. His breakout role came in 2009 when he played Troy Barnes in the beloved NBC sitcom Community. This role allowed him to perfect his acting and to make his name known to a larger audience. Considering that he has always been one to have many projects going on at once, it was surprising that he made the decision to leave Community in the middle of it’s fifth season to focus on solely his career as Childish Gambino. With this time off from acting and comedy, Glover has been able to release a new mixtape, STN MTN, as well as work on further promotion of his 2013 album Because the Internet.

Despite receiving praise in multiple fields, Glover has been told by some critics that he should not pursue a career as a rapper. He has responded to these critics by releasing a song on his debut album, “Backpackers”. He often struggles with having his music being taken seriously due to the implications that come with being a comedian. As a result, he has resorted to creating a new genre for the music which he calls “black rock”. This title is a way for him to prevent his work being put into one box under the title of “rap”. However critics have not responded to this and still judge him as a comedian first and a rapper second. 

Glover has made it clear that his careers as Donald Glover and Childish Gambino should be looked at separately. He has even gone as far to say that Childish Gambino has “no relation” to Glover. The third mixtape that he released was called I AM JUST A RAPPER, further enforcing the point that Childish Gambino bears no resemblance to Glover. Childish_Gambino_I_Am_Just_A_Rapper-front-largeIn the song “I Love Clothes”, he says that he is a “rapper slash not actor”. Despite Glover saying that he is just Childish Gambino when he raps, this does not deter critics from looking at him compared to his career as Glover.

Part of the reason for his raps not being taken seriously by critics could be because of the comedy that he incorporates into his lyrics. In the song “Freaks and Geeks”, he raps one of his most popular lines, “Took the G out your waffle/All you got left is your ego”. While this could be taken as comedy, he should be given praise for the cleverness in his lyrics instead of the humor in them. Due to his background in comedy, Childish Gambino is able to write lines that should earn him the praise of being one of the top rappers in the game.

Another problem Childish Gambino has had with fans disregarding him as a rapper stems from his lack of “street cred”. He hails from Atlanta, where he was often the only black person in his school. Rather than rapping about the hardships of the street, he talks about what he would want to hear when he was growing up. Glover recognizes that he is a “black nerd”, a title he alludes to in his song “Sunrise” (“To my white dudes it’s a concert/To my black nerds this is church”). He specifically announces that these are the people who he is making his music for as they do not have someone with a voice in the rap industry.   

Glover also associates his difficulties within the music industry with his race. His audience is primarily white, which has led him to be perceived as a “white guy” rather than a “black guy”. Despite this perception of Childish Gambino, he doesn’t receive any of the benefits Childish Gambino at the RBC Royal Bank Bluesfest 2014that a white rapper in his position would. He thinks that there is a large divide in the rap world between the white rappers and the black rappers, with the white rappers having the clear advantage. This problem of a racial divide does not only exist exclusively in the rap world, Glover states that he has been targeted by police more than an average person due to his race. There have been many examples of racial tension other than what Glover has experienced, one of which being the recent events in Ferguson, Missouri. 

Childish Gambino is not Donald Glover. Likewise, Donald Glover is not Childish Gambino. Some have had difficulty understanding this point that Glover has continued to try and enforce. While it is admirable to think that one can change the perceptions of society as a whole about rappers, this is not possible. If you want to change the perceptions about rappers, you have to change society’s perception of race. Again, admirable, but impossible. By keeping the careers of Childish Gambino and Donald Glover separated, Glover only limits himself. In order to enjoy his success as Childish Gambino, Glover might be better off embracing his background in humor and taking himself a little less seriously.