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Five Surprisingly Dark Donald Glover Songs
Childish Gambino is working with some surprisingly adultish themes.
by Kristin Hunt
When not losing his shit over LeVar Burton, Donald Glover is out proving himself as the comedy world’s current wunderkind. He’s one-third of Derrick Comedy, the guys behind “Mystery Team.” He got hired to write for 30 Rock when he was still at NYU, and eventually penned the Tracy Jordan classic “Werewolf Bar Mitzvah.” His character on NBC’s stellar sitcom Community, Troy, frequently provides some of the show’s best moments, and, just to make you feel even more inadequate about yourself, he somehow finds time to rap under the stage name Childish Gambino. His songs have become known for their audacious pop-culture wordplay and innuendo, referencing everything from Minority Report to e.e. cummings. But Glover’s tracks aren’t all dick jokes and giggles. In fact, some of them are all suicide and alcoholism. With his new album, Camp, out this week, check out five Childish Gambino songs that are unexpectedly dark.
1. “Fuck It All”
Donald Glover has never been more crushingly depressing than he is on this song, during which he ponders killing himself. He thinks about mixing some “warm Guinness with twenty tablets of Tylenol” and calling his ex-girlfriend before he croaks. “Parents crying harder ‘cause I didn’t even leave a note,” Glover raps. “Saying that I’m selfish and I’m sorry that I left, but it hurts so much to wake up and I left you guys a check.” Just in case it was unclear, he also notes that he “ain’t fucking happy.” Donald, next time you hit this point, please call me instead of your ex. I will have the EMTs there before Magnitude can say “pop pop.”
Listen: "Fuck It All"
2. “I’m Alright”
“I’m Alright” reads like the musings of an Intervention addict who seriously doesn’t have a problem, Dad. Glover may not be on hard drugs, but he is addressing the concerns of his mother, who cries for him; and his friends, who ask if his schedule is worth the sleeplessness and “voices in his head.” (Because apparently he’s schizophrenic now, too.) His response to their worries isn’t exactly comforting. He has nightmares that he’s the “black Heath Ledger” and says he’d “rather die than be average, and chances are I might.” This is a guy who once wrote a Simpsons spec script about Homer being sued by Hall & Oates, so I don't think he needs to worry about being average.
Listen: "I’m Alright"
3. “Be Alone”
Here, Glover visits the well-tread territory of breakup songs. But he decides to opt more for Patsy Cline than Cee-Lo Green. His ex-girlfriend’s infidelty has apparently transformed him from a “guy with an open heart” to a sad man who only connects to computer images. Fearing that he’ll never recover, he wants to call his dad for advice, but worries “what will happen when my dad’s not here to answer it.” Oh, and the mournful line to rule them all? “We are all alone, I’m just the only one to figure it out.” Sounds like someone’s been hitting the Camus pretty hard.
Listen: "Be Alone"
The first half of “Glory” is all about how Glover eats shit like you for breakfast, is fresher than you could ever dream, etc. But it takes a turn when he starts rapping about his booze problems. He drinks an “insane amount” to deal with “the joy and the pain of wealth,” a practice his freeloading friends are only to happy to encourage. All the while he worries about whether his parents will continue to be proud of him “even though [his] hand’s glued to the gin bottle.” Yikes. And here I thought only Rent could make the term “glory” so melodramatic and morose.
Should Donald Glover ever get a somber biopic a la Ray made about his life, the screenwriters will have all their material they need from “Outside.” In under five minutes, the song manages to reference a gun in his mom’s face, his dad losing his job, having to sleep with a screwdriver under his pillow as a child, and being alienated at “that white school.” Oh, right, and his cousin (whom he used to take sink baths with) morphs into a belligerent asshole, since his uncle’s on the run from some thugs. All this from a man who, elsewhere on his album, raps the couplet "An elephant never forgets / so my dick remembers everything."