Showing posts with label community. Show all posts
Showing posts with label community. Show all posts

Friday, December 6, 2013

video review: 'because the internet' by childish gambino

Well, this went okay. Probably one of the odder albums I've covered, and I think the review does reflect that to some extent.

Next up will be the long-awaited retrospective of the Queens of the Stone Age album, then we'll see. Stay tuned!

album review: 'because the internet' by childish gambino

Let's ask an uncomfortable question, one I don't think there's an easy answer to and one I certainly I can't answer: how much does race matter in music, especially in rap music? On the one hand, music spans skin colour and culture, and one would like to think that it shouldn't matter when talking about artists or personal tastes. We live in a generation where Jason Aldean can collaborate with Ludacris and Brad Paisley with LL Cool J, and we should be able to judge the music regardless of racial connotations. And yet, when you have acts like Eminem or Cage or Macklemore or Yelawolf or The Beastie Boys, the prefix 'white' is always added to their titles as 'rappers'. But it runs deeper than that, to a bigger cultural question: whether hip-hop or rap hold central roles to black culture, and the distinguishing factors that make that genre unique to that audience. Now of course this can reach cartoonish extremes, such as those twits calling Lorde racist for attacking shallow luxury rap for its materialism and emptiness (which holds a much uglier connotation, implying that it's inherently black to revel in superficial displays of wealth), but one can't exactly deny that there's a distinctive difference between the place of hip-hop in black culture, particularly in the United States, in comparison with some other genres, like country or metal. And let me assure you, this isn't just confined to the hip-hop genre: many would rightfully argue jazz, soul, funk, disco, R&B, and even the very origins of rock 'n roll itself could be considered having deep roots in black culture.

And nowhere is this difference more apparent than in the subgenre of 'nerd culture' topics like sci-fi and fantasy, which has tended to trend overwhelmingly white or Asian. Now there have been acts that have bucked this trend - the Afrofuturist movement, for instance, with its most recognizable figure in modern music being Janelle Monae and all the awesome work she's done. These works suggest a synthesis, a fusion of stereotypically 'white' sci-fi precepts with discussions and critiques of real world black culture and history. From my point of view, Janelle Monae is doing something truly great by stripping away any needless racial connotations associated with subgenre conventions like sci-fi or fantasy, and adapting them to her own unique viewpoint.

So let's ask another question: what do you get when you have a black rapper who is a nerd and is somewhat enamoured with 'white culture', to the point where he feels he has lost something of his black cultural roots? Well, in that case you get Childish Gambino, well-known as Donald Glover, comedian and actor from NBC's excellent show Community. When he released his major label debut Camp, it polarized critics, mostly because it was an album that spent much of its running time discussing Gambino's unique insecurity: feeling like an outcast because he was 'too black for the white kids and too white for the black kids'. His skin was black, and yet he liked comic books and sci-fi and was defiantly not the stereotypical tough guy gangsta rapper, to the point where his attempts at playing one to win over girls were completely unconvincing. Coupled with the baroque pop-infused production, the near-constant stream of pop culture references, and his cartoonish and exaggerated flow, it made for an interesting listen, if not an unequivocally great or even wholly good one. Despite Pitchfork's scathing line, 'If you buy only one hip-hop album this year, I'm guessing it'll be Camp', a line denigrating presumably ignorant (read: white) audiences who followed Glover from Community (fun fact: the reviewer who wrote that review was white - make of that what you will), there is a grain of truth in the observation. 

And as a white guy who listens to a fair amount of hip-hop and who is clearly the audience for that album (having listened to Camp after watching Glover on Community), what did I think? Well... look, it was okay. I liked the instrumentation and production drawing from baroque pop with Kanye's influences, but Gambino's flow was jerky, the hashtag rap got old fast, the references were well-structured but dated themselves quickly, and Gambino's very real insecurity (supported by a bizarre myopic and backwards-looking view of hip-hop) often lacked coherency or depth. That being said, I can accept that it might have greater resonance with other audiences who might more closely resemble Gambino's situation, and all of the real positives on the album were enough for me to give his newest album Because The Internet a listen. Did it manage to work better than its predecessor?