Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1101

Welcome To B&S



Childish Gambino: Growing gains

Childish Gambino
Childish Gambino Childish Gambino

Universally touted as one of America’s fastest-rising hip hop stars, 29-year-old rapper/actor/comedian Childish Gambino this month delivers his second UK single - the catchy, springy “Fire Fly” - from his critically-acclaimed fourth (and first commercially-available) studio album “Camp."

Indeed, produced by Gambino alongside long-time Swedish collaborator Ludwig Goransson, “Camp” - which has been described as “a riveting album about race, class, opportunity, tribalism, love, the pitfalls of fame, comedy and ‘seriousness’” - boasts a variety of musical moods ranging from the dirtily aggressive, drum-heavy “Bonfire” and the hypnotic head-nodding “Backpackers” to the cinematic strings of the insistently driving “L.E.S” and the touching tale of teenage ridicule related in the standout closer “That Power."

All of which results in a refreshingly diverse album which sees Gambino openly embracing his differences in a versatile lyrical manner - addressing criticism from haters for not being “black enough” or “hood enough” on such cuts as “Outside” and “Hold Your Own” while elsewhere touching on lighter subjects like good old-fashioned romance on tracks like “Kids” and “Letter Home."

Born Donald Glover in September 1983 on Edwards Air Force Base, California before moving to Stone Mountain, Georgia where he was raised by his parents as a Jehovah’s Witness, Childish Gambino interestingly got his hip hop moniker from a Wu Tang Clan name generator while still at college, though is actually best known in his native US by his birth-name for his acting role as college student Troy Barnes (starring alongside Chevy Chase) in the ongoing hit NBC TV comedy series “Community”. In addition to which his talents as one of America’s top comedy writers have also been celebrated, with his contribution to the successful NBC television show “30 Rock” leading to him being presented in 2009 with the Writers Guild of America Award for Best Comedy Series. Meanwhile, more recently, his standing as one of the USA’s best young live comedians was also solidified via his 2011 sell-out IAMDONALD tour. On which, playing to over 10,000, Gambino/Glover divided the show into performing one half stand-up and the second half full-on hip hop show with live band - ultimately resulting in his aforementioned “Camp” album debuting on the US mainstream chart at an impressive Number 11.

… Which in turn pretty much brings us up-to-date, with an instantly-affable Mr. Gambino - casually dressed in black leather jacket, white t-shirt and light-blue denim jeans - enjoying a relaxing early-afternoon chat with “Blues & Soul” Assistant Editor Pete Lewis at Universal Music’s Kensington HQ.

What he wanted to achieve musically with his current (and first commercially-released) album “Camp”

“I wasn’t trying to break new ground or anything like that. I just wanted to make something for me when I was 13, and that was IT! You know, because I don’t feel there’s a lotta music around that’s made specifically for 13/14 year-olds and that they can relate to, with “Camp” I wanted to make an album for THEM! To me it never was about ‘This is a new album that’s gonna change hip hop’. Instead, in the same way that I really liked N.E.R.D. when they came out and was really influenced by them, I wanted to make a record that was sorta in the vein of N.E.R.D. or De La Soul and that, as I say, was the kinda stuff I’d have liked when I was 13.”

With Gambino’s flows having been described as “funny, furious, obnoxious, literate and pensive by turn”, what he wanted to get across with his lyrics this time round

“This album is basically just about being YOURSELF. You know, when you’re a teenager everybody at some time kinda feels like they’re on their own for some reason - probably I guess because you’re going through a lotta changes and figuring stuff out socially that you might think is unfair. So to me the basic theme of “Camp” is essentially about OVERCOMING all that and realising you can do whatever you WANT. So, though there are definitely some lines in there about class and race and stuff that I dropped in, the album as a whole was never intended to be like some political or social or racial MESSAGE - instead it was just supposed to CONNECT with people. But, because I feel like everybody deals with that stuff all the time, to me it was only right to TALK about it.”

How he now looks back on his early background

“Growing up in Atlanta, Georgia there was a lotta rap music going on there back then that’s since influenced a lot of OTHER things. Like if you listen to the radio now it’s mostly very Trap Rap and SOUTHERN influenced - to where those influences have even like crept into INDIE music and stuff... So yeah, when I was a kid I listened to Outkast, Luke, Lil Jon... And then in terms of the area itself, though Stone Mountain, Georgia sounds very rural, it’s actually not at ALL - in fact it’s very CITY-fied! And the fact that growing up there I got to see a lot of changes in the kinda social play-out - it used to be a very white area and then it turned kinda black - was to me very interesting to WATCH.”

Donald’s take on first becoming famous as a comedy actor before later opting to simultaneously pursue a rap career under the new moniker of Childish Gambino

“My High School was also a Performing ARTS High School. So I actually started doing both acting and music there just for FUN. You know, though I never thought it would come to anything serious, for me there was always something really cool about being CREATIVE. And as far as me ending up pursuing both as two different careers goes, there wasn’t really any thinking or planning behind it. I mean, what’s interesting is that I was actually doing music - remixing and stuff - like eight years before I became known as an actor on the “Community” show! It’s just that I got successful with the acting first and then the music became popular in its own right later ON… And then in terms of the rap moniker, what happened was I got drunk one night with my friends, I put my name in the Wu Tang name generator, it came back with the name “Childish Gambino” - and it just STUCK! You know, because I liked it, I was like ‘OK. GREAT! I’ll TAKE that!’!”

Glover’s ideas on how his differing careers intertwine, particularly taking into account his recent IAMDONALD tour - which saw him performing stand-up in the first-half with the second-half comprising full-on hip hop with a live band

“While initially I didn’t think it was gonna work, the reaction to the IAMDONALD tour was actually very GOOD. Though having said that, I have since decided to STOP combining the two different things, because I do want them each to be seen as INDIVIDUAL. You know, I don’t want it to seem like I’m piggybacking one on the other kinda thing So, though that tour was successful, the fact is it’s probably the only one I’ll ever do that’s half-comedy half-music... And in terms of how I’ll prioritise the different careers, I think music is the one I’ll really be focusing on in the foreseeable future. You know, because I don’t take the music lightly and right now the rap thing is going well for me, my immediate intentions are to just go away for a little bit, learn my craft, get better AT the craft, work harder, produce…. And then, once I feel comfortable with where I’m at, come back out again with something NEW.”

The single “Fire Fly” is released August 6. The album “Camp” is out now, both through Island Records Group. The mixtape “Royalty” is downloadable now from

From Jazz Funk & Fusion To Acid Jazz

Join the B&S Mailing List

Blues and Soul on Twitter