Because the Internet – Expressing oneself in 2013/A Case for Gambino

Because the Internet is ambitious. Because the internet tries too hard. Because the internet is an internet campaign. Because the Internet is a sprawling project. Because the internet is a joke. Because the internet is an isolated piece of art. These were the claims being thrown about as Childish Gambino’s second full length studio album Because The Internet dropped early last week, a winter hiphop album and a somewhat melancholy lament to 2013 – for what it means in regards to communication in the digital age, and what it means to a just turned 30 rapper from California.

Childish Gambino, or Donald Glover, is one of my favorite rappers and celebrity figures. I’ve been following this kid since Derrick Comedy, his 30 rock gig, his McDj project, Community fame and now budding rap career.  And I would be lying if I said it wasn’t personal. Never have I come across a media figure whose insecurities and thirst for success I resonate with so deeply. Both hyper-aware and dejectedly in-tune with the internet, Glover is a boy of the 21st century who can’t stand that he is. And this theme is repeated throughout all his work. You understand a culture so well that you hate it but have to be a part of it. I get this. I used to make multiple IMDB accounts each with its own sexual preference and opinions when I was 14 and explore the world wide web just because I could, just because that was one way to push some ridiculous idea on what it means to use the incredibly powerful tools around you in reckless ways. Nexopia? I got that covered. MySpace? Trolled that. PlentyOfFish? Fake Account. Youtube? 10 Accounts.  Reddit? Maybe I’m a mod on r/cringe. I’m an internet kid. If you’re reading this entry, you’re an internet kid. But being an internet kid is both terrifying and awful. Every time I shut my laptop down I’m left with a strange aftertaste and an incredibly varying sense of self-worth depending on how much I connected to the world through my 8×11 inch mac book screen. Because The Internet is a piece of work that attempts to communicate exactly what all other albums do – stories about love, heartbreak, loss and fear, but by actively acknowledging that all these things are now somewhat adjusted to fit a more connected but also more lonely landscape.

Alongside the release of the album, Gambino has released a screenplay to go with it, a short film, appeared everywhere wearing only one standard outfit (white shirt, tan pants, winter hat, winter coat), interviewed in an increasingly dejected voice and echoed the sentiments of his album and demeanor on his twitter, Instagram, and other social media outlets. Now, the thing I’ve read with most BTI reviews has been how such a project is ambitious and Gambino has been involved in a yearlong campaign to market his album and himself as a concept.  That he’s playing a “character”. That his screenplay exists to showcase how much he can do. That his social media voice has been carefully planned to fit into the album.  That his album is an essay about the internet that’s meant to make a statement. I’d like to say fucccckkkkk that.

And I say fuck that because somehow it’s apparently become so difficult to imagine that someone wanted to write a screenplay because they just wanted to and they had something to say. That someone’s ‘work’ need not always be a display of talent carefully planned to exceed expectations, but instead is just an extension of how they feel. I’m dumbfounded that all the reviews I’ve read and opinions I’ve come across ignores the fact that BTI is very much an extension of Gambino. His screenplay a project he wanted to write because it captures a moment of his life. The Instagram and twitter posts – a part of who he is. The costume? He wants to wear it. The shitty and depressing interviews? He’s feeling shitty and depressed. There is no alter ego here; I think it’s just him. Gambino is Glover is The Boy. You can have multiple ways of saying the same things. it’s 2013. While we are fairly removed from where we stood in regards to expression a decade ago, the fact remains that expressing most things is a way of  expressing oneself. And the need to have Because the Internet flood all of Glover’s communication platforms just speaks to the overwhelming need to express who he is right now. Also a neurotic need to make sure the people taking in his work don’t misinterpret the message. As in -Here’s a 79 page screenplay I wrote to make sure you get it. To make sure when you take in this album, you are seeing what I’m seeing.  Because the Internet is a personal essay, conveying the isolated thoughts and feelings a now more famous and public Glover has to face.

It’s also a beautiful piece of work. I say that first because Shadows might be one of my favorite songs of the year. And I say that because the album’s idea and story is heartbreakingly familiar. Love and loss and the feeling of displacement in the world of the internet is a surreal and scary thing. Instagram is like a horror show that I regularly tune in to watch because I’m a part of the narrative. HotNewHipHop is a comedy carnival that sometimes speaks volumes about race and class, and I have an account because I need to.  You can’t just unplug from this shit anymore. So you try to explain who you are now, existing inside of it. Because the Internet exists because of Gambino, and it doesn’t try to illuminate its audience. It simply explains how he feels. We shouldn’t lose sight of that. We shouldn’t forget that people are actually just trying to tell each other how they feel, even if it takes an album, a screenplay, an Instagram post, a white-t-shirt and a ridiculous hat to do that. People get so caught up in the amount of stuff being put out that they skip the part about how all of it still attempts to assemble the same message about its creator.

I’ve sort of skipped the whole ‘review’ of the album itself part because this is more of an entry about losing track of why things are made, when usually we focus on how it sounds. It sounds damn good though. I want to convince you to listen to it, but i also want you to realize why it might exist aside from how ‘ambitious and unique it is”. It wasn’t made to exhibit ambition and be a list of the many talents of one man. It was made because it was made. The album, musically though is a bit manic, filled with short but complicated interludes, a lot of beautiful crooning and some darker rhymes not too focused on the ‘dark horse winning’ narrative which Gambino’s previous album Camp played on. Glover’s there now. He has fame. And now he’s dealing with what it means to have that fame today. It feels like an album in which someone’s trying to understand what his priorities are, and are realizing that he may have fucked up one too many times in his personal life. In ways that all of us do. Letting somebody down, letting someone slip through your fingers. And it’s apparent that he’s also seen more and grown more than he anticipated in the past year. Violence and over-exposure comes hand in hand with growing fame in the hiphop jungle, and Gambino has seen things and been places that has left a mark.

Perhaps the mis-communication of a piece of work that tries so hard to communicate its central theme and emotions through different ways speaks to why the album has been so aptly titled. It isn’t an ‘aha’ moment that means to explain the internet as we know it. But it certainly joins an extended narrative on how so much communication is displacing, how multiple arenas of expression don’t make things clearer, just more blurred. We are who we are now because the internet, its force overpowering and its consequences strange.

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