Live: Donald Glover Gets Emo as Childish Gambino During SXSW
photo by Nate "Igor" Smith
I Am Donald Tour (Donald Glover/Childish Gambino)
Red 7 in Austin (SXSW)
Saturday, March 19
Fuck Rap Cool.
If there was any message Childish Gambino, the rap alter ego of actor/improv comedian/joke writer Donald Glover, wanted to relay to the audience at Red 7, it was that.
Fuck Rap Cool.
And Fuck Indie Cool.
And Fuck Hipster Cool. And fuck any other notion of cool that doesn't let you be comfortable in your skin.
Backed by a full band (including violin player), the former NYU RA from Stone Mountain, Georgia takes the stage in tight jeans, red Coca-Cola vintage tee, and rips into chest-puffer "Freaks and Geeks" from the Childish Gambino EP he released March 8. (Download it here.) The first mention of the size of his dick makes the women in the middle of the pit scream, but it's the end of the song that marks the theme for the night. Tacking on a new chorus, Glover gets the crowd of hipsters, b-boys, and the girls who dragged their friends with the promise of seeing the guy from Community to chant "Fuck Rap Cool" at end of "Freaks." Rainbow Coalition throwing their hands up in the air to fuck all pretense. All conformity.
People have called Glover's Gambino "emo rap" and it's not all that far off. There's pain there. Alienation. Pining for girls. Being called "faggot by other black guys." But Glover's message is slightly schizophrenic, moving from lines about emotional distance ("It seems the more I try to connect with the world/ I am feeling more alone than I ever have felt before") to hardcore swagger ("I'm a sick boy, nigga"). "When I cough I hope you catch it/My germs in your system, now you coughin' like asthmatic" which Glover raps, over a Sleigh Bells' "Infinity Guitars," on the crunchy "The Real."
The official SXSW program has tonight's performance slated 50 minutes longer than the usual hour and listed as "IAMDONALD." The plan was to do 20 minutes of stand-up, followed by a ten-minute video sketch, which would then lead into an hour of music, all meant to showcase the triple threat that is Glover--stand up, sketch comedy, and rap. But there wasn't a long enough video cord at Red 7, which meant a little less silliness and lot more rawness. He is slightly apologetic.
"I can't believe you guys support me and shit," Glover says during a break. "If Dane Cook had a [music show]--I wouldn't be there."
He starts the ballad "I Don't Want To Be Alone," which shows off his falsetto--a falsetto Glover rocks with no AutoTune. His voice is imperfect, but ridiculously pure and honest. The mike cuts in and out in some songs, but he doesn't bitch. His voice starts to give out at the end of "Alone"-- the byproduct of a hectic SXSW schedule that also included hosting the Woodies, a special guest appearance at our very own showcase, with a concert in Chicago thrown in there too--but he saves it in time to nail the a cappela ending.
"Fuck Rap Cool" the crowd chants again.
Then it's time for hipster cool to get a beatdown. "I don't mind if you're a hipster--you have to fucking dance," Glover tells the crowd. "Nothing like going to a TV on the Radio show and going 'Yeah, this is good," he says mimicking all the people this week who've stared into their phones while the band onstage is tearing out their own hearts.
Just having fun.
Dancing like no one is looking.
Fuck Rap Cool.
Glover, who's spent the night bouncing around the stage like a jack rabbit-panther combination, walks off the stage exhausted, but does a quick turnaround and returns to the mike on the floor. He stumbles a bit as he picks it up, falling backwards before catching himself--like a guy falling into bed after just having a knee-crushing orgasms. "Wow," he says, out of breath. "That was fun."
Danny Pudi, Glover's Community co-star who he shouted out his at the start of the show, is laying down the side-to-side head bob to the right of the stage. LA rapper Kendrick Lamar comes on to freestyle with Glover, and the two fit well together, Glover dropping references to Joel McHale, Rainbow Brite. "I'm being me to the tenth power," he barks.
He ends the show with what is probably the best song on the new EP, "Not Going Back."
You want a dude who keep it real, and stay hood
I'm sorry, babe, but I act me
I don't act black, whatever that be
I'm just happy these girls seem into me now
He adds a new verse about the girls who never liked him. Who all want to fuck him. Who all want him to come back to bed. But he's already given them what they wanted, and he's working on new tracks, new bits.
As the crescendo builds and his rhymes get tighter, and the band gets faster and the crowd gets crazier, and Glover gets louder, he leashes into the quatrain that defines him and the night.
Now you payin' attention, pick your fuckin' face up
When I wanna be a superhero I just wake up
Renaissance man with a Hollywood buzz
I refuse to go back to not likin' who I was
"Childish Gambino. I love you all."
He throws the mike on the ground and walks off the stage.
Fuck Rap Cool.
New York reference of the night: "Mixed girls from Williamsburg, that's my fucking Kryptonite."
Overheard Oversmelled: To the guy at stage left who cut four distinct farts at four very even intervals, well done. Glover is a fan of the fart humor (just watch some Derrick videos), and he talented, but I don't think he's that far along for that kind of multi-platform crossover plan. If it was, then props.
Critical Bias: I am pretty sure that during an interview with Glover earlier in the week, I gave him that Rainbow Brite reference that he used while freestylin' with Kendrick. (Update below.)
photo by Nate "Igor" Smith photo by Nick Rallo Nick Rallo Mac, of course