by Rick Mazumdar
I would be the equivalent of a bad rash located on the upper right buttock on a sultry summer's day in Kolkata if I mentioned for the billionth time how unrelentingly terrible 2016 was as a year IN EVERY WAY POSSIBLE (I told my counselor "New Year, New Me," but I suppose that's not going to happen), but yet, regardless of all the celebrity deaths, of all the internet memes that became world leaders and all the countries facing upheaval of an nth degree; I, from a semi-privileged, not bigoted, socially and politically aware perspective (let's tick all the boxes here, shall we?) believe from the standpoint of media and culture that the best thing that has happened in the previous year was the rise and rise of one Donald Mckinley Glover.
This article basically serves to show how Glover's prowess as an artist has grown and has been moulded over time to reach the level of excellence he is at presently. We'll be focusing on his work on some of the episodes on Atlanta and "Awaken, My Love!" predominantly, while taking a look at all the previous work that has helped him gather the experience and technical nuances that has brought him to this present level.
For many, Donald Glover's claim to fame would be for his beloved role of Troy Barnes in the TV show Community from 2009 to 2013 when he left the show in the 5th episode (Geothermal Escapism aired in early 2014) of the 5th season to pursue his career in music.His character on Community was so iconic yet miles away from his persona that it was sometimes difficult to place his identity or to locate his true potential which was shielded in enigma in the form of the boyish Troy Barnes.
After his departure from Community in 2014, he released his second studio album BECAUSE THE INTERNET, which received a nomination for Best Rap Album at the Grammy's,buoyed by the singles "Crawl", "3005", "Sweatpants" and "Telegraph Ave." . He received a nomination for Best Rap Performance for "3005" as well. On October 2nd of the same year he released a mix-tape titled STN MTN and the very next day he released an EP titled KAUAI.
2015 and 2016 are what I like to call the crescendo of Glover's career, at this present period of time. After signing onto to write, direct, act and be an executive producer on Atlanta and releasing his 3rd studio album "Awaken, My Love!", Glover sealed his position in the industry as the complete artist. Going on to win two Golden Globes for "Best Television Series Comedy or Musical" and "Best Actor In A Television Series Comedy or Musical" for Glover himself.
For me, Atlanta hinged on two things he once said. Firstly, "Black Culture is a fight. We want to hold on to what we are but sometimes the things that we are can be totally negative.You have to think - can't we try something new and not be seen as suspect?" Secondly, "We put stereotypes on ourselves. Everybody does that. But I think its a little harder for Black kids to jut be who they are." Atlanta is has its influences from some of the meta comedy style of Community filled with poignant moments that address various aspects of race, sexual identity and one's place in society. The show focuses on the presence of masculinity in black society as showcased in Episode 2, "Streets on Run" and the hegemony which creates an environment to suppress sexual preferences.
Atlanta is one of those rare works of media that depends heavily on surrealistic imagery to carry forward the plot of the series. The show is about Earn played by Glover, who's a Princeton dropout and his trials and travails in the city of Atlanta , Georgia, he decides to produce his cousin Alfred "Paper Boi" Miles's music and tries to win back his girlfriend Vanessa's respect.
It's almost as if it's a heavily drug induced experience, the effect of which is enhanced by the unpredictability of each episode. The humor is laid back, but sharp when it needs to be, and is sometimes frightening to an extent. The influence and the experience of writing for 30 Rock is clearly reflected in Atlanta coupled with the unpredictability and the meta comedy of Community. The use of bottle episodes in Atlanta is the best representation of his inspiration from Community namely in the 7th Episode, "B.A.N", this episode rife with Meta-Advertisements clearly poking a joke at itself, which made the humour element work perfectly.
Glover attended DeKalb School of the Arts and was voted "Most Likely to Write for The Simpsons" in his high school year. Aptly put, since Glover, in 2006, was contacted by David Miner, to whom he sent writing samples, including a spec script that he had written for The Simpsons. Miner and Tina Fey were impressed by Glover's work and invited him to become a writer for the NBC series 30 Rock. This title was clearly reflected in the episode "B.A.N." , in which an itchy and scratchy-esque (or trix-esque) served as political satire to address the #blacklivesmatter campaign.
Glover is the definition of a learning artist, being influenced by the subtle techniques of film-making; a reflection of which is the 9th episode of the series named "Juneteenth", a holiday that commemorates the June 19, 1865 announcement of the abolition of slavery in Texas, and more generally, the emancipation of African-American slaves throughout the Confederate South. Celebrated on June 19, the word is a combination of "June" and "nineteenth". Juneteenth is recognized as a state holiday or special day of observance in most states of the USA. Traditions include public readings of the Emancipation Proclamation, singing traditional songs such as "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" and "Lift Every Voice and Sing", and readings by noted African-American writers such as Ralph Ellison and Maya Angelou. Celebrations may include parades, rodeos, street fairs, cookouts, family reunions, park parties, historical reenactments, or Miss Juneteenth contests.
The episode "Juneteenth" focuses on similar themes such as black emancipation, racial identity and class struggle. The episode is somewhat a throwback to "Eyes Wide Shut" but with all black characters. The episode has a very loose narrative and is disjointed at parts seemingly fed with some heavy narcotic substances and has almost a dreamlike air to it. The episode revolves around the character Craig, an optometrist, who invites Earn (Donald Glover) and his girlfriend Vanessa (Zazzie Beetz) and gives Earn a taste of what he (Craig) is in black high society. The episode is basically a consequence of what Craig's thought process is about black culture, or about how he knows about it (or how he doesn't). Craig creates a cringe-worthy environment for Earn by showing him paintings he made inspired by Malcolm X quotes, telling him how he pledged for a black fraternity, and even asking Earn to go visit his "motherland" in Africa. The brilliance of this episode is that the humour is awkward, sharp and in your face and is capped off by one line Earn says when Craig asks him about which part of Africa he's from and he says "I don't know. This spooky thing called slavery happened and my entire ethnic identity was erased". This comedy style is repeated throughout various moments in the show and while joking about these important subjects of debate, it also manages to show how frightening racially biased societies can be.
Atlanta has this almost lackadaisical pace to it while carrying the gravity of the themes that it wants to showcase. It questions and impacts people from all races. It highlights the problems that black culture faces while also showing the brighter side of things as well as the inherent problems black society faces.
On December 8, 2011, Glover released a duet with Danny Pudi titled "Troy & Abed's Christmas Rap", which is considered to be the very song that brought Glover to fame. He DJs and produces electronic music under the moniker "mcDJ". His music is often made available for free download via his website.
He has come a long way from his first album CAMP in 2011, playing in Bonaroo and going on his IAMDONALD tour, after which he went on to producing BECAUSE THE INTERNET in 2013 and finally releasing the sultry sounding AWAKEN, MY LOVE! in 2016. His collaboration with Ludwig Gorranson (who produced a lot of the music on Community), has been of great benefit in this particular album. The entirety of the 3rd album is experimental and fresh, heralding a brand new Childish Gambino. In his third album Gambino completely shifts from a southern rap style to funk, an emotional connection quite different from his previous music, a more wholesome approach integrating various forms into one unique album.
Filled with funkadelic tunes with a 6 minute gospel track enhanced by the use of the electric guitar in his song "Me And Your Mama" and the falsetto induced "Redbone" and the calypso melodies and the near comedic overtones in "California", the album reaffirms Glover's growth as an artist, because not only does he bring a uniqueness in his craft, but he does so by paying homage to a variety of different artists. "Redbone" is the most influential song in this album in my opinion, not only does it have a near fear inducing sultriness as an aftertaste from calming effect it tries to convey in the beginning, it also has a message of staying politically and socially aware when he howls "Stay woke... now don't close your eyes" at the end of the song.
The entire album is devoid of all the aggression he had in his previous rap albums, but that goes without saying since a funk is different genre, mostly unexplored in the present age. It's as if all the aggression used to make rap music was channelized ever so subtly in choreographing so many different styles and genres so very perfectly with the utilization with an array of different instruments to perfectly hit the listener at the exact moment Gambino wanted the listener to be hit.
The unexplored singing talent of Gambino is nearly glorified in this present album, but totally in a good way, even if he sounds slightly off key when heard live (the bugger is brave af). Here's a video of him covering "Tamia".
Besides his singing, acting and directing talent, Donald Glover is an exceptional comedian as well.
Glover appeared at the 2011 Bonnaroo Music Festival on June 9 in 'This Tent' as Childish Gambino and June 11 at The Comedy Theater, with Bill Bailey performing stand up. Comedy Central streamed the comedy live on their website. Glover performed an hour long stand up show for Comedy Central in 2011 called Weirdo.
It's safe to say that the future is bright for Donald Glover, with future roles like Lando Calrissian and the voice of Simba - and Miles Morales in Spider-Man: Homecoming, hopefully. We certainly do have a lot to look forward to from him. The only reason that his talent is being called for is because he was able to build on his persona as an artist, in almost sphere and took his talent to a level where he now cannot be ignored.
For a lot of fans of the TV show community their journey ended when his character Troy left the show, and caused a lot of fans to be drawn astray but the truth is that although Community brought Donald Glover to the forefront of all media and is one of the reasons for his fame presently, there were too many things he could not have done if he stayed on in the show for another season. A lot of the art that he has created would have been left undone if he hadn't made the sacrifice to leave. Though the heart wants what it wants and me and several scores of fans would love to see Donald Glover re-adorn his character Troy if a Community movie were to ever happen.
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