January 22, 2014

Test Spin: Childish Gambino, Because the Internet

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Childish Gambino is not a subtle dude. Hence, entitling his sophomore studio album Because the Internet makes absolute sense. While other artists would shy away from such bluntness, guaranteed to put off potential consumers, ‘Bino embraces it. This GTFO attitude echoes throughout the entire album, from Childish’s style to his lyrics to his overall production. He is not here to simply entertain you, he is here to tell his story and share his feelings about loneliness, anxiety and broken (or were they doomed?) relationships in an age gilded by silicon and touch-screens.

The run-up to the release of the album was accompanied by publicity that perfectly complemented the content. In October, Childish made a personal declaration in the only way that matters: via Instagram. He uploaded six images of handwritten notes, in which he talked about the loneliness, insecurities and fear he felt. Among the self-obsessive teenage angst though, he sneaked in a notable meta-thought:

“I got really lost last year. But I can’t be lonely tho. Cause we’re all here. . . we’re all stuck here.” Is there a better condemnation of the contradiction of social media than talking to your 300,000 followers about how lonely you feel?

Unfortunately, this clarity and profundity is somewhat lost in the album. The album tracks are designated with roman numerals (ex III. urn), meant to correspond to scenes within acts in the seventy-five-page screenplay and short film Clapping for the Wrong Reasons that accompanied the release of the album. While the two parallel each other nicely, neither makes much sense beyond fairly loose artistic interpretation. Certainly ideas and thoughts are present, but Childish has made a concept album that fails to resonate, preferring to consume itself with verbosity.

The first song of the album, “I. crawl” puts reference-heavy (OJ Simpson, R Kelly, Vonnegut, etc.) bravado over a pounding beat, using human screams and a looping hook (sung by Kai) to great effect. It is a relatively meaningless song, but it’s still fun. Next, Childish gives us “II. WORLDSTAR.” One of the more advanced songs on the album,  Gambino raps about the website (which focuses on “urban media”, generally revolving around phone-taped fights or low-budget music videos), while proclaiming that he was a “World star before rap.” It is good, although it is painfully broken up by unnecessary samples in several places, a disservice several other tracks suffer from. “I. The Worst Guys” features Chance the Rapper singing “All she needed was the” ad nauseum and is by far the most fun, care-free song on the album — Childish plays well off of Chance’s nasally, relaxed hook.

The middle of the album is largely focused on relationships, often drifting into R&B, with Childish doing a fair bit of the singing himself. “II. Shadows” is a unique track, using a quiet drum sample and wonderful bass loop (done by Thundercat, whose album Apocalypse  was one of the best projects of 2013) to set the tone for a blissful Childish. “II. no exit” has a gorgeous Miguel hook but is purposefully twisted by a muttering, dark Gambino as he describes his dissent into reclusivity. Finally, “II. zealots of stockholm” is the track I came looking for on BTI. The production utilizes a dancehall-style wail of “free information” over a deep, nearly static synth and rolling snare before dropping out to a quiet, introspective Gambino — “And wait until I’m walking in it with a gun that they 3D-printed and finish it/Kinison said if you gonna miss heaven … Why do it by two inches?/Old money and new bitches”.

In the context of meaningful 2013 rap, Internet was an appropriate cap to the year. It incorporates the paranoia and megalomania of Yeezus, the defiant self aggrandization of Nothing was the Same and the anxious wonder of Acid Rap. Childish also stylistically borrows from the three: Kanye’s beats, Drake’s melodic hooks and Chance’s variety of flows and voices are all present in the album. With that said, Gambino falls short. It simply all sounds too labored, too perfect, but without enough substance. Drake’s album was technically perfect too, but he is prodigiously talented and charismatic enough to pull it off. Internet drips with obsession to detail to the extent that it is offsetting. Ironically, similar to social media, Internet ultimately fails to reach the heights to which it aspires, largely because it has the lost the organic element that accompanies greatness.

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