The scope of a Childish Gambino song can be as focused as a simple love song, or as vast as the known universe. Sometimes, he manages to leap in and out of these different lenses in the same song. While he certainly pulls this off in the cult classic Because The Internet, he was a character, The Boy, for the majority of the album. It was a highly relevant work to the lives of his listeners, touching on the pains of social media culture, heartbreak, and painting a colorful portrait of the very millennial quarter-life crisis. But the listener could still escape into BTI. It was The Boy’s world, not an applicable view of ours.
Folk music can be roughly defined as music written for and by “the people,” broadly. It’s typically minimal, a singer and their acoustic guitar, but folk distinguishes itself culturally by its scope and how it’s shared: songs concerned with the state of the common folk, passed down orally and learned through tradition. Many songs have unknown original composers.
As I write this, donaldgloverpresents.com is counting down toward something happening at 2 a.m. CT on Sunday. The album he released on the website last Sunday was streamable for just 12 hours. No official tracklist, no interface with info on the album’s title, length, or features. Just an eclectic stream of new music and cover art that appears to capture 2020’s pandemonium. While the compositions are complex, diverse, and evoke the likes of Prince and Kanye, Donald Glover’s spirit in these tracks feels more like Bob Dylan.
Before dropping the stage name Childish Gambino for good, Glover released some of his most expansive music between late-2016 and 2018. With a boost from Jordan Peele’s debut film Get Out, the significance of “Redbone” rose to zeitgeist levels. The power of “This Is America” needs no further explanation from me, and “Feels Like Summer,” half of a seemingly unimportant two-pack of songs, became one of the most incisive state-of-the-world songs dropped in recent memory thanks to yet another brilliant visual.
Increasingly, Donald Glover’s music is speaking for us. Better yet, it feels like the uber-talented creative in the prime of his career is just another head in the crowd, but quietly projecting his perspective on a screen in front of us. This isn’t the futuristic madman we get from Kanye, the hood philosopher king that is Kendrick, or the distant musings of Drake holed up in Calabasas.
Glover is making dance songs out of existential fears of Big Data. He’s continuing his allegory of the depressing party from BTI to include us, the ones that never get the call, the ones that feel like days are slow but years are fast. His voice and melodies bend and twist wildly throughout the album, like he’s trying to mimic the pace of online dialogue. We get West African percussion, soul, funk, and trap country, with every piece of influence put to some uniquely focused use.
One artist can’t ever truly capture the people on their own. It would be idolatrous to say “______ IS AMERICA. ______ IS THE WORLD.” But there are a few voices playing enormous roles in the image of society today. There may be names and stakes in the culture bigger than his, but no one is channeling America’s soul with the same clarity or intensity that Donald Glover is.
As always, we have no idea what to expect from this man in the next several hours. Given Glover’s recent track record though, I expect to hear/see pieces of us in it.