Psychological self-questioning is a trip and a half!

One of the only stars I’ve actually seen or spoken to in person, and only briefly, Childish Gambino projects a unique and awesome style! He came across in person as laconic, burned out, and definitely a bit zoned out, probably due to his familiarity with the otherworldly experience of fame and celebrity in the internet age.

What’s strange, though, is that his personality on-stage as a stand-up comedian, as a television personality in the show Community, and in his Derrick Comedy videos from a few years back was much more energetic, colorful, and endearingly nerdy and idiosyncratic. His character Troy and Abed’s friendship was one of the most consistently entertaining parts of that show, and the single thing that most people associate with his image.

But today, he is concentrating most of his considerable talent on advancing his career as an up-and-coming rap star. His new album “Because the Internet” from the very tail end of 2013 is an enormously ambitious, and entertaining offering that explores the modern media environment in ways that few other artists I can think of ever have. Childish Gambino is a star that is steeped in internet culture, and the digital-social environment, but he seems to understand the very particular kind of alienation and confusion that uber-digitalism has instilled in today’s young adults. In person, he does not wear outlandish clothing or jewelry the way that many successful mainstream rappers do, but rather, unadorned sweaters and unremarkable pants and shoes. He grew up in Stone Mountain, the same area where I lived and worked for the last year, and he embodies in so many ways the unassuming but utterly remarkable flavor of this place. He is not generally boastful about the fact that he happens to have a full suite of gifts, both as a writer, musician, and comedian that launches him miles and miles beyond the competition. But this song is.

His new video for Sweatpants, from “Because the Internet,” released about two weeks ago, is a fresh and utterly engrossing expression of his genius and his artistic vision. It first brings to my mind the scene in “Being John Malkovich,” when the character played by Malkovich enters the mystical door into his own mind and finds that every person he encounters is himself! A hallucinatory expression of psychological confusion, the scene is also playful in it’s own strange way… I remember thinking expectantly, when I watched that movie, ‘WHAT COULD POSSIBLY HAPPEN NEXT?’ In this video, Gambino mirrors the boastful and self-aggrandizing trend that has been a huge part of hip-hop since it’s early hits in the late 80s and early 90s with the lyrics “Don’t be mad I’m doing me better than you doing you,” and with lyrical embellishments that effortlessly reflect the chaotic and utterly engrossing, barely controlled insanity of other brilliant young rappers, particularly Chance the Rapper (who I’ve also been pretty obsessed with lately as well.)

The video has Gambino walking through a cafe late at night, lip-syncing the lyrics. He sits at a table with friends, messes with the jukebox for a minute, and proceeds outside the restaurant to mess with his phone. As he turns and re-enters the door he just exited, we find that he is caught in a loop, entering the same door he previously had and walking in the exact same way he had before. His eyes express a paranoia and awareness of the disturbing repetition, and when he sits at the table with his friend, the friend is none other but himself! By the third time he walks through the cafe, every person in the place is himself, dressed in their own particular clothing and nonchalantly ignoring that all reality has flipped upside-down upon itself. There’s even a moment when Gambino steps outside narrative of the lyrics, commenting on the sound of an engine starting, and Gambino pauses, looks at the camera, and says “Fisker’s don’t make noise when they start up, just so you know.” Lyrically, Gambino is rapping about the experience of self-created success, and all the confusion, frustration, and mixed pride and aggressive ego that go along with it.

By the last section of the video, Gambino declares “I don’t give a f___ about my family name!” and for a few secconds every projection of Gambino’s self stands still, and the music segues into a Frank Ocean-influenced R&B interlude. Childish Gambino is suspended at an impossible angle in the midst of a misty nature scene, waving his arms and dancing in a dramatically-lit, otherworldly natural environment.

The song and video express a paranoiac, hallucinatory take on the modern experience, and is an utterly creative and singular expression of Gambino’s unique artistic vision. This guy also is a perfect example of what I love so much about this place I live, more generally… the strange mix of the mundane and day-to-day, with the absolutely and completely out-of-this-world, crazy and eclectically artistic fantasy and genius. I am a huge fan of this guy, and the video is dope, so keep it up, boss! Represent!

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