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Camp’ is in session

Patrick McManus | Monday, November 14, 2011

3.5 shamrocks

Donald Glover is an incredibly talented entertainer with a diverse list of accomplishments to his name. Now he has another item to add: hip-hop rapper.

The Stone Mountain, Ga. native first made his mark as part of the sketch comedy group Derrick Comedy, known for their YouTube videos like “Bro Rape” and feature film, “Mystery Team.” As a resident advisor at New York University, Glover wrote for “30 Rock” with Tina Fey. He then headed west to California and soon landed the role of Troy Barnes on “Community,” the character for which he is perhaps best known. Somewhere along the way he started doing stand-up comedy and rapping. And he is awesome at both.

Childish Gambino, Glover’s hip-hop persona whose came from an online Wu-Tang Clan name generator, began releasing mix tapes for free online over the past few years. Now his debut album “Camp” is in stores, after streaming on National Public Radio online for the past week (which says a lot about Glover’s fan base).

As sort of a hipster nerd, Gambino deals with questions of race and machismo, dispatching his detractors with sick flow. Reviewers have made frequent comparisons to Kanye West, because Glover was raised in the suburbs by a loving family; Lil’ Wayne, whose style Gambino seems to imitate on tracks like the lead single “Bonfire;” and Drake, because they both acted on a television show before launching a music career.

But on “Camp” Gambino is not mimicking any artist or style. Though he is indebted to some, he is pioneering music for a hyperactive generation that jumps around freely without staying anywhere long enough to perfect anything. The tracks vary from choral-backed stories, to thumping shows of lyrical intensity, to creations that are altogether different. What else would you expect from a 28-year-old with Donald Glover’s resume?

Incorporating references to everything from Casey Anthony to the “Human Centipede” to “Rugrats,” and talking about his attraction to Asian girls and the difficulties of maintaining a relationship with his fast-paced lifestyle, “Camp” is a lot to listen to and a lot to ruminate on afterward.

The theme that is most repeated, though, is Gambino’s insistence that he is a serious rapper who plans to continue succeeding in all his careers. The album often lapses into tropes of hip-hop culture, causing some critics to argue Gambino is misogynistic and unoriginal. However, that really couldn’t be further from the truth.

“Camp” is Donald Glover in a way that you haven’t seen him before, whether you’ve followed all aspects of his career or just know him as Troy from “Community.” It is full of childish bravado and capable of moments of extreme vulnerability. It’s dope.

Contact Patrick McManus at [email protected]