A fair question: Is Donald Glover too talented for his own good? The 27-year-old actor plays Troy on arguably NBC’s best comedy, “Community.” His sketch comedy group Derrick Comedy is a YouTube sensation. Glover’s been nominated for writing awards for his work on “30 Rock.” He goes on stand-up comedy tours. You might have even seen him in a Gap campaign.
Lately it seems Glover’s passion is music. On Tuesday, he — under the Wu-Tang-inspired moniker Childish Gambino — dropped a five-song free download titled EP. It’s a natural progression from Glover’s 2010 album, CULDESAC, in which he regularly toes the line of Lil Wayne-inspired, I’m-the-s--t boasts and genuinely sad self-deprecation. There’s no question Glover is a talented writer (you don’t get hired on “30 Rock” through connections), so his LOL rhymes will give you pause. “Steady movin’, don’t worry about where I’mma be/’cuz I’mma be on these tracks like Indie girls on ‘Amelie’,” he raps on “My Shine.” (I immediately thought of the try-hards coming to high school with black bob cuts.) And then there’s Glover’s sadness. He sneaks emo lines in with striking clarity, and they’re bitter as hell. From opener “Be Alone”:
“‘You are the bestest / I will obey you’ These words I wrote for you when you were f---ing other dudes The only thing I need from you now is some solitude Actions over words, girls will be girls/that’s all it proves I used to be this guy sitting with an open heart Now my computer screen is the only place I feel a spark”
Glover’s very active Twitter and Tumblr accounts are evidence he’s not lying. Add the melodramatic hook, “I don’t want to be alone” and it’s clear Childish Gambino isn’t a solo Lonely Island act. So Gambino can sell some jokes and disarm with his candor, but it’s the abundant filler in between that sinks EP. The “A Milli” Lil Wayne DNA is all over, especially in its endless, tiring rambling. Glover is no Lil Wayne, a virtuoso capable of making the most mundane lines sound fresh with the slightest tweak in his frog-rasp. Glover’s rapping voice is a pinched off, pissed off squeal that grates at times. Combine this with too many unsavory clunkers, usually of the female variety (“I’m hard in the paint like I f---ed her on her period”? No.), and EP leaves an unsatisfied feeling.
Which brings us back to the initial question: has Glover’s excellence in other fields unwisely led him to a so-so hip-hop project? Childish Gambino not only raps but sings hooks, too, and that might illustrate the project’s overall problem: just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should. On “Be Alone” and “My Shine,” Glover does his best Drake-falsetto impression, and it’s technically passable — I guess — but wholly uninteresting. As an MC he rides beats just well enough, but once you hear a joke, there’s no sense in being told it again. At only five songs, there’s only one stand out (the straight-spitting “Freaks and Geeks”) and one abortion (“Lights Turned On” has Childish Gambino going Euro-trash), and three songs that just kind of sit in the soup. Without a doubt, Glover is multi-faceted and very talented (seriously, I’ll be furious for weeks if “Community” gets canned) but EP makes a fan wonder if he should stick to where he excels.
Judge for yourself when the I AM DONALD Tour comes to Rams Head Live May 9. He’ll be rapping and doing stand-up.