A lot of us know what it’s like to google a question and accept whatever Yahoo Answers, in all its academically credible glory, has to offer. An example of moderate and modern resourcefulness, the activity of using Answers is a small aspect of culture that helps subtly define it-similar to those old Facebook pages with uber-specific titles that many relate to, myself included (“When I’m home alone and I hear a noise… I completely freeze” is a page with nearly 700,000 likes).
Childish Gambino is acutely aware of such subdued trends that quietly pervade our digitalized society. Versatile in talent and deeply thoughtful, the man who recently received concern over his cognitive health addresses how we are byproducts of an online world through the creation of his own within the limitless confines of Because The Internet.
Boundless by design, Glover has assembled an elaborate and deliberate architecting of circumstance with apparent ease. While the album can purely thrive due to musical merit, it is best digested in context. The duality is rare, and exhibits the former Community star’s considerable range both as an artist in hip-hop and in a more general sense, the latter allowing for a supportive narrative that surrounds the songs themselves. Clapping For The Wrong Reasons, a short film, provides a glimpse into Gambino’s mind as a directionless graphic piece. The perception of time and life fall into a field of distortion as attention-spans diminish and the rate at which we consume information grows. His self-written screenplay furthers the ambitious need for a medium-spanning representation, tastefully combining text and visuals.
Brief moments-the camera’s prolonged, immobile fixation on a woman practicing martial arts in Clapping, or the shot of a texting Gambino enraptured by his phone in the screenplay’s conclusion-stress the under-appreciated or unconsidered instances that we often overlook. Typically, these situations deserve more attention. On “Shadows”, Childish takes a break to acknowledge the “birds in the trees” as he and his partner run through them.
Conversely, he admits to a grander desire when he defies a track’s worth of subject matter—along with a goal of an entire generation—in the conclusion of “Worldstar”, in which he states, “We don’t wanna be a (worldstar!) / And all I wanna be is a (worldstar!)”. Very quickly, priorities are rearranged and a cultural staple falls under implied disapproval.
Sure to garner anything but disapproval, however, are the enveloping backdrops which provide the foundation for Because The Internet’s emotional, sonic realm. Spurts of warped strings make “Death by Numbers” a gripping, foreshadowing listen, while the following record, “Flight of The Navigator”, sees Gambino softly crooning atop a sweetly ambient, watery guitar.
When Glover leaves the fast raps for fully formed melody, the results are memorable: “Telegraph Ave” and “3005” could serve as radio hits without any sense of sacrificed integrity. His rhymes and flows, too, sound sharp and matured, despite the continuation of some palm-to-the-face punchlines that lace Internet. Critics can still categorize him as a “joke rapper”, but it would be lazy in 2013—leave that spot open for Big Sean. Every track has its reason for inclusion, contributing to a deeper story that correlates with Internet’s external script. More special is the album’s ability to be personally specific and societally applicable.
“We are the dreams of our parents lost in the future”, he notes on the project’s closing record, “Life: The Biggest Troll (Andrew Auernheimer)”. It’s a fascinating concept that packs pages worth of insight into a simple sentence: as we grow and move through the motions in an attempt to find success and make our parents proud, the near (or inarguable) obsessiveness over technology heightens. Our direction, like that of the short film, becomes muddied. Today, you’re the exception if you manage to make it through a movie without checking your phone. Today, kids see someone being harmed and shoot videos rather than take action. When placed in situations to meet people, we opt instead to bury our faces in our devices and engage in self-isolation.
Is this a substandard way of life? Gambino seems to imply as much. Try not to mistake the solemnness for depression, though: He’s just accepting an existential reality that many shy away from, a reality spawned because of the Internet.
3.5 out of 5
You can buy the album on Amazon.