Childish Gambino Virtual Reality
Published Dec 18, 2013Because the internet, Childish Gambino is here — the moniker of actor/comedian/rapper Donald Glover was birthed by a Wu-Tang name generator he found online. Since his 2011 debut, Camp, Gambino has been keeping the internet abuzz with a steady number of new tracks, including last year's mixtape, Royalty. He's taking a reduced role on the cult hit Community to begin work as show-runner and star for his upcoming music-themed TV show for FX, called Atlanta. However, deep in the inner recesses of Chris Bosh's mansion (dubbed by Gambino as "The Temple"), he started recording new material for his aptly-named sophomore release, Because the Internet.
Eventually, fans were treated to the short film Clapping for the Wrong Reasons, while the rest of the internet went into a hoopla after he posted, on his Instagram, several handwritten notes detailing his own personal fears and insecurities. Because the Internet delves into these same themes, creating a digital world that exposes the contradictions and self-doubt on the web, something Gambino has no problem doing in real life. Exclaim! talked to Gambino about humans being the better internet, feeling lost, and the charm of cyst videos.
What are some of the great evils that you've engaged in on the internet?
I like cyst videos. A friend of mine, Gillian Jacobs [Britta on Community] got me into them. She's really into them and those are like the weirdest things I'm into. I think those are weirder than any sex videos, just because I get weird sexual feelings from that and it's fucking gross and you know just typical weird shit like what's on WorldStar and other stuff.
Have you seen the one where like a bull's horn goes through like a guy's face and tears it off?
It's horrible, like his face look like an indented pumpkin. It's the absolute worse.
Have you seen the one where the alligator is eating the zebra underwater and its stomach rips out? It's still alive and his stomach just falls out and that's the worst part. Like he's trying to live, but it's way too late… he doesn't know, "Holy shit this is my death certificate."
I feel like the internet is like this huge mostly evil place…
You feel like it's a mostly evil place?
Yeah, but I'm weird.
It's not because you're weird it's because you're human. I don't necessarily disagree with you I just think — for example, I love WorldStar, it's this beautiful and crazy place. Anything that can make you feel like that is [special], but there's some really rough shit on there.
You've expressed that your fans have as much input into your music as you do. How much does that factor into the music making process?
It's like a good meal. When you're cooking for kids you gotta give them a little bit of what they want, what they can understand, and then a mix of what they need. I'm not saying I know what people need at all, I'm not like, "You need to hear this!" I try and balance what I like and my unique experiences with what Kanye calls "the texture of the time" — what people are ready to understand because it's really popular or something that we're used to.
How do you determine that?
Here's the thing: music is like an advertisement for your brand and people are invested in me, whether it be me or my music. I can't — like the dude who likes Camp, I can't make it again and if I did, that would be way fake and with this album it's like, super me. I think anyone who can pinpoint the reason why they liked the album and say, "I like Camp because it did this this, and this," you don't like my music, you just like the album. You just kind of have to be real about it, be honest.
What do you think your brand is?
I don't know man. If I knew I would probably… I would probably be a corporation. I would just box it up and just do it, but I don't know what it is. I'm just thinking, creating it as I go. I don't know what I'm doing, I really don't. I just kind of do it.
You've said mixtapes are kind of like practice for your albums? What have you learned off of Royalty that you applied to Because the Internet?
Honestly, I threw everything that I did with Royalty out the window. I was looking at that like a science experiment instead of making shit that I thought was fun. I like Royalty, I listen back to it and there are things in each song that are good, but I feel like I started brand new with everything [on this album]. The way I look at music is different. [On Royalty] I was in the studio with different people and all of that stuff kind of worked. For this album I stripped myself of being in the studio — I hate studios. It took me awhile to realize it, but I don't fucking like being in a studio. You're supposed to be creating stuff the way you want to create it as opposed to being like, "I'm in the music business. I'm in the studio, I got these mixers I gotta use these." I'm like, do it the way that's the most fun. We're all going to die so why am I fucking sitting in a studio trying to feel like Quincy Jones.
Do you ever feel in terms of your creativity, that you're limited in any medium?
No, you can always be better. You can always do better. I look at it like I can always do something and get better and better, because there's not one medium where you will be perfect at. Jiro is like the best sushi maker in the entire world and even he says he can get better. I'm not a machine. I can always improve myself.
Speaking of your other work, for whatever reason I was checking out Sleigh Bells' "Rill Rill" video and I realized it had your name in the credits. Was that actually you?
That's crazy you're like the first person to ever bring that up but yes that was me. I've done a lot of shit man.
So the stuff with the phone bleeding and all that craziness, that was you?
Well, I didn't make that, but I wrote it. It's just — it's crazy I don't get a lot of props for a lot of shit I do, but half of that is my fault. I'm always like "If I just keep doing this it will come back to me," but people keep doing cool shit, and people aren't going to say something. That's not a slam on Sleigh Bells or anybody, it's just like... the whole point of art is to do it for art's sake. When me and my friends made it, no one helped us, we just put it on YouTube. We didn't get any funding from anybody like MTV or any shit, we just did it and it's because I was like obsessed with Sleigh Bells. The opportunity just came and I was like "Yeah I'll fucking do that." I wrote it really fast, but yup that was me.
Is it fair to say "Fuck Your Blog" was like the prelude to this album?
[laughs] No, "Fuck Your Blog" was like… I just really like those guys [Flynt Flossy & Yung Humma] from Turquoise Jeep. I was going to put it on Royalty, but it leaked beforehand. The way I view the internet now and the way I looked at it then are probably the two most different things ever so, I wasn't really thinking in terms of what the internet meant.
So, why did you decide to call your album Because the Internet?
Because the internet I'm here, because of the internet we're all here. It's the language of earth. Everyone keeps saying by this or that year, Mandarin or Spanish will be the most dominant language, but the internet is already a language we are all connected to; even my dad can understand the meme format. The internet is a language we are connected to but we're not doing a very good job. But the thing is, there are no rules, which is also the awesome thing.
I know for the album you said you're building a world around it. What is the bigger world or idea?
I think people will get it once they get the album and read the screenplay. I just want to create. I don't want to make huge statements. Anyone who tries to do that is almost too much, like this is... I don't want to speak for everyone. All I'm doing is hopefully being so specific that it will touch different aspects of humanity.
What song are you the most proud of on the album?
I really like, all she needed — well actually it's called, "The Worst Guys." I say "all she needed" in it over and over and so does Chance the Rapper. I really like that song because we wanted to make a Beach Boys type song and I feel like we did that. We took the best elements so I really like that one.
In the short film, Clapping for the Right Reasons, one of the girls in the pool mentions this idea about one of your songs not being scary enough and I've heard you mention that same idea where that if you don't get scared or nervous about something it's not special. Where does that idea come from?
When you're doing something routine you're not worried because you know how it works and at that point you're just an animal; you might as well be a bunny. Bunnies every day have more bunnies and those bunnies grow up and they are afraid of things that move at night, they eat grass, then they go to sleep and then they are afraid of things that move at night again and then they eat grass again. We're better than that. The way we got here was through thinking. We're here because we're special and we're not [always] doing the exact same thing.
I feel like if I feel safe all the time I might as well be an antelope because honestly I'm not supposed to be here, I'm really not, it's such a mistake. But it's the best mistake to be human and alive. There's so much shit to do in the universe so why would I waste this being like an [animal].
Did you make the short film with the intent of making it intentionally vague?
I think I tried to make it as specific to me and how I feel. I feel lost. I feel afraid and lost and I don't think that's just me. I feel like I have the microphone so it goes out more, but I feel everyone feels that way. There's all this nostalgia on Tumblr and stuff, because people are afraid to move forward because we're so aware that we're going to look stupid later. Half of the reason I think people aren't fighting the gay movement as much, is because some people understand that one day we'll look back and they don't want to be seen as the bad guys who opposed it. Shit isn't going to go backwards. People aren't going to have fewer rights, it's just going to keep moving forward. Gay people deserve rights and they will have their rights so are you going to be the one in the picture helping or not?
People are scared of being embarrassed so they are kind of staying where they are and I'm like, "No you guys we have to keep going this is the most important time." Now, that we have the internet it's easier to feel that way than it has ever been and [make those advancements], but its leaving us really lost and afraid. I mean do you feel lost and afraid?
Always. I don't know what I'm doing half the time.
Right! You're just like "What am I doing?" I think we live in a time where we're afraid to be [daring]. The way people got here is because a lot of people died, a lot of people had to try [different things] and be like "Oh, this is poison!" and then it's like well now we know its poison. Everybody is now aware of how life works [and its dangers] so nobody wants to be that guy [that tries something new] and we can't be like that.
How's the role of show-runner for your upcoming show?
I haven't really done anything with it yet, I'm still writing it right now.
Is it finally finding some focus?
It's finding some focus for me. I think it's nice just to worry about it so, yeah its going well.
In one interview you said you want people to be like "It's crazy that they didn't make you Spider-Man" and that you can do anything. Do you feel that has finally happened?
No, I think that's going to take a long time and that's not even my focus anymore. I want people to bring that up eventually and be like, "Who cares?" For me this isn't about doing a bunch of stuff, it's about being honest and I just want to be honest from now on. What really drives me is making really dope shit that's honest and speaks to the fact that we don't know what we're doing. I feel like we are a little lost so, I just want to give some context to that because I don't have the answers and I don't think I would be a good artist if I said I did. I feel like all that spider man stuff is neither here or there anymore.
On one of your earlier songs, "My Shine" you said "I swear the last track I lie on is my last track." Is there a song you've released or haven't released where you felt you were close to crossing that line?
The truth is if I'm making a song and I feel like that, I usually don't finish it — I can't finish it. Like [me and co-producer, Ludwin Goransson] just make a bunch of songs that we just like. I don't think it's ever like I write a lyric and I'm like, "Oh, I just lied, next." Everything on the album happened to me in one way shape or form. Whether it was a dream, something that literally happened to me or something that affected me so much that I had to put it in. So, if I feel like it's not me, it just doesn't become a thing. On the internet, lies just live there. We are like the internet as far as lies because we're always trying to decide if something is real or if it just for a headline. We're the best internet, we're better than the internet, and I feel like we're re-learning the language.