The rapper, comedian, actor, and writer also known by his given name Donald Glover wrote for “30 Rock” and plays Troy Barnes on the NBC sitcom “Community.”
Glover has made the actor-to-rapper transition more successfully than anyone but Drake. Glover explores similar topics to Drake on his full-length studio album “Camp,” but with a different twist. Drake’s persona is that of an adolescent with more power than he knows what to do with, seeking fulfillment through the dark haze of codeine. Like Drake, Glover has been accused of being gay. But Glover portrays himself instead as a painfully self-aware nerd seeking validation from the implacable Powers That Be. His moniker itself was chosen by a tongue-in-cheek Wu-Tang name generator online.
This image has been difficult to digest for the public and completely rejected by some. Said Glover of “Community” co-star Chevy Chase’s accusations of homosexuality: “That’s the only way a guy like Chevy Chase has of processing a black guy who looks like me, talks like me, dresses like me. That’s how alien I am to him.” In the song “All the Shine,” Glover takes a jab at hipster music review website Pitchfork—“Pitchfork only likes rappers who crazy or hood”—which proceeded to award “Camp” an insulting 1.6 rating out of 10. Black actor and comedian Keegan-Michael Key described Glover as a comedian with “a white sensibility despite [his] brown skin, the whole Wayne Brady thing.” Others, such as performer Lucas Zachary Hazlett, attribute his popularity to his time spent in the improv group Upright Citizens Brigade: “Donald Glover is funny, and his funny is universal, but he got grown in the Upright Citizens Brigade, which is almost all white people—white comedians, white audiences—and so it’s, like, focus-grouped, pre-approved.”
Glover’s “black nerd” reputation is no doubt influenced by his “Community” character Troy Barnes, who had accumulated a substantial cult following by the time Glover released the mixtape “EP” in 2011. Barnes has a magnetic sense of humor and a heart of gold, and his character arc is that of a prom king, football quarterback steadily distancing himself from that personality while embracing a burgeoning geekiness. Glover embraced this persona, creating the Twitter hashtag “#donald4spiderman” in hopes that Sony would cast him to play Peter Parker in then-upcoming film “The Amazing Spider-Man.” But his race has been problematic for some people. Glover describes receiving a letter from a fan: “‘I really like you, Donald, I like all the stuff you did…but we know there’s no black kids like Peter Parker.’ And that bothered me so much. I was, like, you don’t think there’s any black kid who lives in Queens, who is poor, who likes science?...That’s me! I am Peter Parker!”
Glover’s comedic talent is palpable in his music. He produces much of it by himself and virtually every line is a double or triple entendre–“made the beat then murdered it/Casey Anthony.” He has earned a reputations as a great performer as well, famously shooting the music video for “Freaks and Geeks” in one take. Much of his music, including the very recent “Royalty,” is legally available for free online.
Those interested in seeing Childish Gambino live should make their way to Bridges Auditorium at Pomona College on Nov. 10. Tickets are available at the Bridges Auditorium box office to 5C students for $25 and to faculty, staff, and alumni for $35.*
*Correction 11/6: This article previously stated incorrectly that tickets are available to the public for $35.