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Issue 1084

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Feature

Childish Gambino: Growing gains

Childish Gambino @bluesandsoul.com
Childish Gambino @bluesandsoul.com Childish Gambino @bluesandsoul.com

Universally touted as one of Americaâs fastest-rising hip hop stars, 29-year-old rapper/actor/comedian Childish Gambino this month delivers his second UK single - the catchy, springy âFire Flyâ - from his critically-acclaimed fourth (and first commercially-available) studio album âCamp."

Indeed, produced by Gambino alongside long-time Swedish collaborator Ludwig Goransson, âCampâ - which has been described as âa riveting album about race, class, opportunity, tribalism, love, the pitfalls of fame, comedy and âseriousnessââ - boasts a variety of musical moods ranging from the dirtily aggressive, drum-heavy âBonfireâ and the hypnotic head-nodding âBackpackersâ to the cinematic strings of the insistently driving âL.E.Sâ and the touching tale of teenage ridicule related in the standout closer âThat 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 âblack enoughâ or âhood enoughâ on such cuts as âOutsideâ and âHold Your Ownâ while elsewhere touching on lighter subjects like good old-fashioned romance on tracks like âKidsâ and âLetter 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 Jehovahâs 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 âCommunityâ. In addition to which his talents as one of Americaâs top comedy writers have also been celebrated, with his contribution to the successful NBC television show â30 Rockâ 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 USAâs 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 âCampâ 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 âBlues & Soulâ Assistant Editor Pete Lewis at Universal Musicâs Kensington HQ.

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

âI wasnât 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 donât feel thereâs a lotta music around thatâs made specifically for 13/14 year-olds and that they can relate to, with âCampâ I wanted to make an album for THEM! To me it never was about âThis is a new album thatâs gonna change hip hopâ. 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 Iâd have liked when I was 13.â

With Gambinoâs flows having been described as âfunny, furious, obnoxious, literate and pensive by turnâ, what he wanted to get across with his lyrics this time round

âThis album is basically just about being YOURSELF. You know, when youâre a teenager everybody at some time kinda feels like theyâre on their own for some reason - probably I guess because youâre going through a lotta changes and figuring stuff out socially that you might think is unfair. So to me the basic theme of âCampâ 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.â

How he now looks back on his early background

âGrowing up in Atlanta, Georgia there was a lotta rap music going on there back then thatâs since influenced a lot of OTHER things. Like if you listen to the radio now itâs 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, itâs actually not at ALL - in fact itâs 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.â

Donaldâs 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

âMy 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 wasnât really any thinking or planning behind it. I mean, whatâs interesting is that I was actually doing music - remixing and stuff - like eight years before I became known as an actor on the âCommunityâ show! Itâs 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 âChildish Gambinoâ - and it just STUCK! You know, because I liked it, I was like âOK. GREAT! Iâll TAKE that!â!â

Gloverâs 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

âWhile initially I didnât 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 donât want it to seem like Iâm piggybacking one on the other kinda thing So, though that tour was successful, the fact is itâs probably the only one Iâll ever do thatâs half-comedy half-music... And in terms of how Iâll prioritise the different careers, I think music is the one Iâll really be focusing on in the foreseeable future. You know, because I donât 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, produceâ¦. And then, once I feel comfortable with where Iâm at, come back out again with something NEW.â

The single âFire Flyâ is released August 6. The album âCampâ is out now, both through Island Records Group. The mixtape âRoyaltyâ is downloadable now from http://iamdonald.com/childishgambino
Words PETE LEWIS

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