By Ryan Walsh
It was a hot, sweaty night at the House of Blues, and the air was thicker than the rims of the Ray-Bans that littered the crowd. Funnyman Donald Glover had no jokes for the hipster masses this evening.
The seriousness with which Childish Gambino took his performance was a sharp contrast to his shenanigans on NBC's Community. His set list was a gradual progression of songs from all phases of his career, highlighting the evolution of his own style. The majority of songs on his Camp tour were from his upcoming album of the same name.
Despite the fact that the majority of Gambino's earlier work did not originally include a full band, Gambino performed his earlier work accompanied by a full band as comfortably as the originals. The presence of live instruments created intriguing reinterpretations of crowd favorites like "Freaks and Geeks". In his homage to Adele's "Rolling in the Deep", Gambino enlisted John Legend to rerecord Adele's original vocals.
Although his time in the rap arena has been relatively short, Gambino's dramatic background transposed well into showmanship. In his song "You See Me", Gambino recited a chain of unrelenting references with a synthesis of stimuli both audio and visual. Against a backdrop of his own lyrics, Gambino assaulted the mic, spewing at a speed comparable to Twista and Busta Rhymes. Gambino is quick to flex his verbal skill to confirm that he is indeed "a black star/ in a black car/ with a black card".
What separates Gambino, however, from other punchline rappers is his ability to use finesse over the English language to convey lewd messages. Language like "She's an overachiever, cause all she do is suck seed," is infinitly more resonant than a crude oral sex reference.
While Gambino has by no means abandoned his infatuation for whiskey and Asian women, his new album CAMP begins to explore deeper emotional issues. Gambino's style has evolved from reciting a string of cultural witticisms to using these references to bring an unparalleled sense of realism to his stories. Gambino is definitely not the first rapper to explore teenage struggles and holes in the familial infrastructure, but Camp's untraditional, non-hood approach to these issues are easily accessible to the suburban youth comprising his fanbase.
In his song "L.E.S.", Gambino illustrates a story about his drug-addicted uncle jeopardizing the safety of his family by stealing drugs. Rather than reveling in drug dealing and being hardened by the street, Gambino recognizes that these are scary issues. Gambino also conveys the emotional stresses of his mother working two jobs to put him through school at NYU. Throughout the myriad of experiences in the song, the listener can't help put identify with these real-word, accessible issues, both hood and not.
Gambino riddles these anecdotes with analogies that tailor to the twentysomethings who bask in Gambino's cultural references. By telling stories we can identify with in a manner we can identify with, Gambino earns his spot as the top rapper for the suburban youth. Let's be honest, I can identify a lot more with E.E. Cummings than doing PCP. Gambino recognizes that.