Release Date: December 10, 2013
Here we have a punch line without a premise.
Childish Gambino is the rap alias of the comedian and writer Donald Glover; Because the Internet follows up his 2011 album Camp and a few freebie mixtapes. But it sounds like nothing more than a talented guy reciting erratic ideas and fragments of phrases scrawled on unconnected Post-it notes, over production cooked up by himself and cohort Ludwig Goransson with the apparent intention of combining every genre of music ever made available on a torrent site — often in the same song. Someone forgot to pass Glover the memo that he was recording an album, not curating a bunch of one-liners.
As these scattered 19 tracks unfurl, throwing up disconnected references to everything from Friends to WorldStarHipHop to the Gaza Strip, the abiding impression of its architect is that there’s some sort of internal unease between the Donald Glover who has penned ROFL-worthy quips for Community and 30 Rock and his ambitions to be accepted as an honest-to-god rapper. His rap barbs are dull where his comedy writing is sharp; “Sweatpants” even airs out a tired “all she wanna do is Bangkok / Bang cock” barb before he slips into dated hashtag-fad territory. He has technical chops and can spit syllables in a cipher-worthy fashion, for sure. But he’s trying too hard to impress. Presumably, he sees the Childish Gambino persona as some sort of gifted smart-ass, but writing rap-referential quips for ol’ Liz Lemon Cool J requires an entirely different skill set than creating songs that even his most devout fans can endure.
The only reaction that Because the Internet elicits is the uncontrollable urge to skip to the next song, in hopes that things couldn’t possibly get any sloppier. But they do, beginning with the cod-wailing that blights “Crawl” and volleying with the psychedelic muzak of “The Worst Guys” (co-starring Chance the Rapper) and “Zealots of Stockholm (Free Information),” which sounds like Glover has inadvertently locked himself in his practice space and is attempting to muster up a loud enough mess so that some kindly passerby will hear his cries for help.
As the album collapses into itself with the closing cut, “Life: The Biggest Troll (Andrew Auernheimer),” we’re resigned to existence as a gloopy mess of random thoughts. “Where’s the line between Donny G and Gambino?” the rapper muses, but it’s unclear whether this is meant as a genuine identity crisis or an all-knowing middle finger to critics. Maybe the entire album is a meme itself, a grand existential joke critiquing the all-conquering rise of Internet culture by parodying its overwhelming randomness. Whatever it is, though, it’s a bad rap record.