Rise of the Childish Tycoon, Donald Glover
On Tuesday, September 6th, 2016, I was chilling on my couch eating stale puffcorn. Wrestling was about to end when my DVR notified me that FX’s “Atlanta” was going to start in less than a minute. I have been a fan of its creator Donald Glover for years, so of course I prepare in what I hope will be the next biggest step for his career. The title sequence was shown and at that moment I remembered how far Glover has come. So who should we talk about: Donald Glover or Childish Gambino? Gambino was just his music alter ego created as far back as 2006, but both personas are one in the same. You can never have one without the other these days. If not, then maybe “Atlanta”, a series centered on the Atlanta Hip-Hop scene and culture would’ve never existed.
Donald McKinley Glover was born on September 25th, 1983 in the Edwards Air Force Base in California by Beverly and Donald Sr. The Glover’s would then move to Stone Mountain, Georgia, DeKalb County where mom and dad would run a foster home for the next decade and a half. Donald’s foster siblings were his main sources of exposure of what really goes on in Atlanta to the sheltered Jehovah’s Witness that Glover was. He would excel in acting and writing and would attend New York University.
One day in an NYU dorm getting drunk with friends, Glover and his crew discovered a Wu-Tang Name Generator. After putting his name in, Childish Gambino was presented to him. A few tipsy freestyles later playing with the name, he thought to himself “Why not?’, thus Childish Gambino was born. Gambino would release his first project Sick Boi in June, 2008.
Glover would then join forces with sketch comedy pals Dominic Dierkes, DC Pierson and director Dan Eckman to create the hit YouTube comedy team of Derrick Comedy. Their work would help spawn a partnership with College Humor, running from 2006-2009, landing in their own movie titled Mystery Team in which Glover co-wrote, starred, musically produced and musically performed under his moniker of Childish Gambino.
During the rise of Derrick Comedy, Glover would meet comedian and actress, Tina Fey who admired his work. With the backing of Fey, Glover would join the writers team for the hit NBC comedy series “30 Rock”. He would be the youngest in the room during his three season run in the series. His work however was exceptional, earning him an award for best Comedy Series from the Writer’s Guild of America.
In 2009 during a live Derrick Comedy sketch performance, Glover ran into writer and director, Dan Harmon. Impressed by his work and acting chops, Harmon would cast the black, slightly small Glover to play what was originally supposed to be a tall, white and very athletic Troy Barnes in the cult NBC comedy series “Community”. Glover’s performance of Troy Barnes gained critical praise, giving him a face on television.
Behind the scenes of “Community”, Donald Glover was putting out work under his Childish Gambino alter ego. In September of 2009, Gambino released the mixtape Poindexter. In 2010 he would hit three mixtapes back to back titled I AM JUST A RAPPER, I AM JUST A RAPPER 2 over the winter and Culdesac that July, 2010. Glover was also doing stand-up comedy during his spare time for years. This would soon get him recognized by Comedy Central giving him a “Comedy Central Presents” special in March 2010 and his very own special, Weirdo in 2011. His “Comedy Central Presents” special was where I first stumbled into the man Donald before the rapper, Childish Gambino.
When Sony announced the reboot of the Spider-Man franchise, fans rallied for Glover to be given the part. Sitting on good momentum, Glover would back it up with fans, thus #donald4spiderman was born. The campaign made waves on the news and the internet, even reaching to Spider-Man creator Stan Lee who supported Glover in the casting. Unfortunately, the actor was never contacted by Sony and the part was given to Andrew Garfield.
The #donald4spiderman campaign was quite an experience for Donald Glover. Where there was praise, also brought a slew of racial slurs towards Glover, given that the role of Peter Parker’s Spiderman was white. This would change Glover’s perspective on the importance behind his art and since then has made it his mission to remove the boxes and labels he was put on as an artist. Self identity was key and there wasn’t a field people were going to put him in. His content, roles and direction in music and film became more challenging. Much good came of the campaign as well. People were taking Glover more seriously, and comic creator Brandon Michael Bendis would use him as one of the key influences behind the creation of Miles Morales, the African American and current Spider-Man in Marvel Comics. They would even give Glover the pleasure of voicing Morales in the “Ultimate Spider-Man” cartoon years later in 2015.
In late 2010, Childish Gambino would push his IAMDONALD campaign and tour for his “EP” release in February 2011. Later that year, I would know Glover as an actor and comedian until one day on a YouTube search, I found the “Freaks and Geeks” video from his EP. The video is simple: one wide continuous shot slowly closing in on Gambino running around the room rapping his ass off. The video makes it personal. There are no distractions; just you and him. To this day it is one of my favorite music videos and what convinced me to become a rapper.
Gambino would sign to Glassnote Records in September 2011, and release his first major label project, “Camp” in November. Gambino was never one to shy away from the braggadocios and witty rap (“Bonfire”), but in “Camp” I would see him tackle self identity crisis very similar to my own in a much more personal scale (“Hold You Down” and “Sunrise”). In no time he would announce a new mixtape in January the following year.
On July 4th 2012, Childish Gambino released his ROYALTY mixtape for free download. I was on vacation in Wilmington at the time playing the mixtape over and over until my phone died; recharge and repeat. This mixtape was different than his other work. We still had classic Gambino here and there but this time he was much more harder and lyrically driven than before. The vast number of features on this project after nearly a year of featureless projects made for a good time. Gambino was not alone in the artist’s backing with the likes of Nipsey Hussle, Schoolboy Q, Ab-Soul, Danny Brown and Chance the Rapper; all who I were introduced to thanks to Childish Gambino. Legends in music were present as well with Bun B, The RZA, Ghostface Killah, and most surprisingly Beck.
The announcement for “Atlanta” was made in early 2013 and I have been following it ever since. It was confirmed that Donald Glover would co-write, star and executive produce the series. However, this would conflict with his commitment to “Community” thus leading to his departure from the series later that year. Since his leaving of the show other than releasing his short film Clapping For The Wrong Reasons, Glover was quiet for most of the year till October when he announced that his next studio album was done. He would then release the project Because the Internet on December 10th, 2013; just two days after my 21st birthday. I bought the hard copy and digital copy on the same day of it’s release. Because the Internet would be accompanied by a screenplay released on the internet for the full experience. The album would be dubbed Gambino’s best and most daring work to date, earning him two Grammy nominations in 2015 for Best Rap Album and Best Rap Performance for his single “3005”.
After a successful Deep Web tour, Gambino would release his mixtape/ep pairing of STN MTN/Kauai on October 2014. STN MTN, abbreviated after his home town of Stone Mountain, was free for download. The mixtape was about Gambino being king of Atlanta and giving us a tour around his world through DJ Drama fashion. Kauai was a continuation of that story after Gambino “wakes up”. Flexing his vocals through pop-r&b, the work reflects on the past and love lost with a guest appearance from long time Gambino fan, Jaden Smith.
Fast forwarding to 2016, Glover kept himself busy while working on “Atlanta” taking on roles in films such as The Lazarus Effect, Magic Mike XXL, and The Martian. Little did we know, Gambino was working on his third studio album. The announcement was made on the PHAROS Earth app released by Gambino over the summer. The app featured a countdown of you traveling to planet Earth, offering ticket sales to Gambino’s listening party and performance of the album titled PHAROS once you’ve reached your destination. The album is set to be released this September.
With a confirmed role in Spider-Man: Homecoming and rumors of playing Lando Calrissian in the Han Solo prequel to the Star Wars universe, it seems as if D. G. Lover ain’t nothing to f*ck with. After watching “Atlanta”, and reading the praise from not only critics, but the people who matter most to Glover, his home state of Georgia, it seems that this long and slow burning rise has just started.
Most recently at January’s Golden Globe Awards Donald Glover and the breakout show Atlanta was awarded with the award for the Best Comedy Series. An amazing milestone for the entertainer and for the entertainment industry.
Very few have successfully represented their city and culture to the masses on such a platform as Donald Glover. As far as a rise goes; whether it’s Donald Glover or Childish Gambino, we’ve only seen the beginning.
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