Songs In The Keypad of Life: Childish Gambino

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THE BOY
They look happy as fuck though.
FAM
Cause they reached their goal. In a year they’ll be like “oh fuck…goals are dumb.”
MARCUS
Goals are dumb?
FAM
Making your life a goal is dumb. I think. This shit is supposed to be just fun.
(then)
I took an edible at the diner. It’s kickin in. Hard. I’ma go upstairs

It’s difficult for journalists to properly critique albums in one sitting these days. A person like me must complete a series of sporadic listening sessions throughout the course of a hectic day (at the gym, on the way to work, etc.). Because of the internet, I have an arsenal of fancy gadgets that facilitate this process. After fulfilling the first finale of Childish Gambino’s Because The Internet, I was intrigued by a smattering of waffling noises, vocal transmutations, and sonic shifts. The immediate thought was the album is layered in the same sort of musical and thematic complexity as Stevie Wonder’s Songs In The Key of Life. The album is no where near the aforementioned in terms of quality (as 99% of every album I’ve ever heard) but the sprawling nature of the shape-shifting rhythms are reminiscent of Stevie’s masterful way pushing creative boundaries during his peak in the mid 70’s. Engaging every vessel of his talent, Stevie completely exhausted the powers of the Moog synthesizer and every other instrument at his disposal in 1976. As testament to his work, Steve released an album that knocked fans off their feet. Like’s Wonder’s synthesizer, Childish Gambino has fully exhausted the powers of digital media with Because The Internet. With an accompanying script fused with short films and visuals, Because The Internet is not a singular statement. Because of the internet, these sort of peculiar artistic leaps are possible.

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He holds out his hand for a high-five. The kid jumps, hi-fives him, and slides into the limo.
The Boy’s FATHER (Rick Ross) is sitting by the far door. The limo starts off.
The Boy and his father sit in silence for what feels like 8 hours.
FATHER
How was camp?
The Boy “shrugs”.

The Boy’s father asking him about “camp” is a direct reference to Childish Gambino’s debut studio effort, Camp. Upon first meeting the boy, it’s obvious that much of his happiness is derived from sojourns through the internet. His conversations with his father (aka reality) don’t produce much value, and are meaningless wastes of time until he arrives home and begins trolling on the internet. Gambino puts a lot of emphasis on the filthy surroundings of the boy’s living space, which he describes as an “elegant mess.” Because of the internet, the boy lacks the time or the interest to keep his surroundings free of clutter and molding food. These are mere distractions that stray away from his internet activity, and the boy only ventures into this world when his body is interrupted by pysiological needs, such as hunger, which he satisfies by snacking on poptarts. They are the fuel that is needed by the body in order for the mind to be be fully invested in the internet.

He starts checking his mail. His friend “FAM” sent him something that says “this is you” with a link. The Boy clicks the link and a video of a woman blowing a horse comes up. The Boy watches the video for longer than you should watch a horse blowing video. He closes the video.
He goes onto HOTNEWHIPHOP.COM. There’s a new Rich Homie Quan song out. It’s listed as “VERY HOTTTTTTT”. The Boy looks in the comment section, reading what people are saying.
“This nigga sound like a broke-ass Future! [CRYING EMOJI]” is the top comment.
The Boy stares. Then types “fuck u niggers” in the comments.

He waits. He takes a bite out of his pop tart.

He refreshes the page. People immediately respond with “Fuck U”, “You wouldn’t say that to my face faggot”, and “LMFAO crackers b crazy”
The Boy smiles.

“Crawl” sets the tone for the album. Much like Wonder’s masterful album, the tracks on Gambino’s record stray all the fuck away from some sort of musical cadence and instead rely on sprawling displays of perpetual shifts. Unlike a Cyndi Lauper tailored-made-for-radio hit, it is impossible to predict the next symphonic movement, and so we are left abandoned time after time, often within the same recording melody is never sacrificed, even amid a wild musical labyrinth of weird computer noises and spontaneous bursts of synths. Gambino has hit that rare milestone in artistry; supremely structured moments that sound utterly structureless; Van Morrison-esque moondances that never lose their footing or balance. The effect is not the result of a one-act show of sonic excellence, as Gambino’s vocals play a crucial role in these creative leaps as well. Often within the same song, Gambino embodies the spirit of a man suffering an identity crisis. Because of the internet, such raw displays of pathological U-turns are just the product of the times; the same way the status of one’s state of mind can shift throughout the course of a day as a bevy of social media sites encourage one to do so.

There are other artists that came of age before the internet boom, and subsequently released albums to critical acclaim touching on the subject. Deltron’s Deltron 3030, Radiohead’s OK Computer, and TLC’s Fanmail are insightful musings on the potential consequences of a world invaded by cyberspace, but the internet is no longer some dark looming mystery in which the effects are unknown. We are a society completely interconnected with the web, it is an inescapable niche; Our daily activities owing in much part to the internet, it’s an afterthought as how to how immersed we really are. The internet is an extension of ourselves.

But the album is hardly one boring, dogmatic treatise on the highs and lows of the internet. In fact, the true beauty of the music is the silver lining that courses through the veins of the content at play here. Gambino can be childish one second, then completely serious the next. Asymmetrical on the surface, but symmetrical in practice; Because of the internet, our periods of boredom are alleviated through surfing.

SWANK
How long you been surfing?
SASHA
Ten years. You?
SWANK
Bouta month.
AJ
Cops don’t come out here. It’s a good place to smoke. You want some?
He passes it. She takes a hit.

A quick surf through the internet allows for tragic headlines juxtaposed with hilarious Youtube videos about drunk people. With the ease of a click, expeditious paradigm shifts occur at the hands of browser plate tectonics, and 140 characters of social commentary can range between somber seriousness and quick-witted triviality. Because of the internet, we do not stop to think about the distinctions or the grand consequences for that matter. No matter how large the disparity in the genre of information we consume, it all seems organic when displayed in LCD/LED lighting on our tablets, smartphones, and laptops. They all spring forth from the same source, like the weighty philosophies about a divergent world and shameless odes to females spring from Childish Gambino.

Because of the internet, a person can act as their own public relations manager, able to remold themselves to whatever perception they desire presented to the world. With “IV. sweatpants,” Gambino excels in the fine art of shit-talking. Because of the internet, a shirtless and bill-less 16 year old can instantly instagram a selfie of himself clutching a wad of bills to project a false sense of wealth to his followers. Because of the internet, society has evolved into a realm where a lot of importance is assigned to the opinions of strangers. An article about Polar Bears can somehow morph into a dazzling display of racism, bigotry, and theological battles. In past days, all this activity would require some effort, but because of the internet, the aforementioned can be accomplished in seconds, all the while donned in a pair of sweatpants.

The Boy checks his Twitter feed. Twitter name “You Are Unimportant – @thegoldmolar” You can see from his feed he just trolls all the time. Politicians, athletes, entertainers, etc. His favorite was simply re-tweeting something someone says. When it was dumb enough to just re-tweet, that was his favorite. He’d gotten a lot of followers that way. Written an article once for a blog. Got more followers. He started posting videos of homeless people and fights.

Jay is bleeding from his stomach. The Boy is seeing this through his phone. It takes a moment for him to realize-

The Boy is looking at the footage on his phone. He’s got a death on video. It’s looped. Over and over.
The Boy touches his shearling coat…there’s a hole in it. Bullet hole? He puts his finger through…

Because of the internet, we have become desensitized to violence and misfortune. Once we lock eyes with a shiny interface, we can view catastrophe and humiliation as sources of entertainment. This disposition naturally affects the course of one’s reality. When we witness a stranger blindsided by a sucker punch, our natural instincts are to document the event and upload it onto Worldstar. On “Worldstar,” the callous chants of WORLDSTAR, WORLDSTAR are purposely similar to the ancient Romans cheering for bloodshed and death in the Coliseum. Human suffering…are we not entertained? Is this not why we are here?

“Best case, we the front page, 10K on the first day
Yeah, motherfucker, take your phone out, To record this
Ain’t nobody can ignore this, I’m more or less, a moraless individual
Making movies with criminals, Tryin’ to get them residuals
When it all go crazy, When I hear that action, I’m a be Scorcese
(My nigga, hold it horizontal)”

But as the name implies, worldstar is not just a website or way for people to project the miseries of the world. Because of the internet, everyone is a celebrity. From the excruciatingly mundane to the phenomenal, the events of one’s life are not scribbled journaled entries collecting dust in an attic, but rather forever contained within the canals of cloud storage technology. Primarily a standard loop of drums, the waning moments of worldstar transform with the introduction of a solitary trumpet. To stand out among the masses, a man must do more than ever before. Because of the internet you may have never had the chance to listen to a seminal masterpiece like Songs In The Key of Life because it is so damn hard just to keep up with all the modern music constantly streaming.

It didn’t feel like the day The Boy was going to die. Not to say The Boy didn’t feel like he was going to die, he was certain he was going to die today. But he didn’t feel like today felt like a/the last day/night. Like a Wednesday that keeps feeling like a Friday. But the more he thought about it, if the last day felt like the last day, the world would be a different place. The order we have everyday would vanish if you were guaranteed a warning. People wouldn’t live like they do. They wouldn’t care what you thought. It’d be anarchy. Or a utopia. Depending on who you ask.

Both the album and the script contain heavy meditations on death, and the grand meaning of death in general. In the script, “the boy” is frequently freaks out his friends with his random emo diatribes about the hollow nature of modern existence. He is exposed to death numerous times in the script, On “Earth: the oldest computer (the last night)” all of the previous thematic overtures convalesce into the most powerful statement on the album. At this point, like the constantly transforming music, Childish Gambino is morphed back into Donald Glover (the actor, screenwriter, rapper). As his range of creative endeavors attest to, Glover is a man who desires what many men want; to have his name remembered long past his physical expiration date. It’s the same feeling Stevie Wonder was experiencing in the 1976, when a cosmic premonition of impending death propelled the musical magician to work feverish days and nights crafting his masterpiece. His premonition of death almost came to fruition when he was involved in a freaky accident in which a tree log was lodged through his car window. Reportedly, when Stevie regained conscious on his hospital bed, the first words he heard came from a loved one signing “Higher Ground.” At one point during the Because The Internet story, “the boy” wakes up in a hospital bed.

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Wonder never touched on the life-altering accident verbally on Songs In The Key of Life. Instead, he released an instrumental track entitled “Contusion.” Like Wonder’s instrumental, the full-length recordings of Because The Internet are interrupted by short snippets of songs, most of them lacking any vocals at all. However, when played along Gambino’s script, the songs like “II. no exit” provide some of the most poignant insight into the work at large.

INT. THE BOY’S ROOM – LATER NIGHT
The Boy lays in his bed. Blue and black stripes from the shades fold over his face. He can hear raccoons scurrying outside.
He sees a spider in the corner of the room. Just sitting in its web.
The Boy doesn’t particularly like or dislike spiders. They’re everywhere in the house. It’s a big house and it’s right next to a reserve. But something about this spider sitting there…it really bothers him. It makes him mad. He can hear the spider. Just sitting there. Getting louder.
I’m going to describe it as emotional tinnitus: when everything is silent and quiet, you can see the empty web you’re in. It is annoying. Which is the slowest form of torture.
…The Boy gets up.

Spiders are heavily featured in the story, and one can make a strong case that spiders relate to the concept of the “web.” Because of the internet, we are all spiders in a sense, spinning our own autobiographies in the interconnected web. On “telegraph ave: “Oakland,” the song is introduced by a radio DJ who announces the latest track by Lloyd. Lloyd sings for the first few moments, and Gambino hums along until the song eventually morphs into his own. Because of the internet, art is a completely shared medium. Although this scenario is intended for creative effect, the same sort of “sampling” is ordinary nowadays. Because of the internet, fans can make a music video for MGMT’s “Kids” that is leaps and bounds better than the video made by the actual band. Because of the internet, a person can express their personalities via the art created by other people when Facebook asks them what their favorite movies are.

The presence of the Nyla (Jhene Aiko) character allows for “the boy” to fall head over heels to temporarily find some joy inside his tears, but his fears of the future are not alleviated it. “pink toes” actually precedes “earth” in the tracklisting as well as the narrative, and features the beautiful Jhene Aiko, Gambino’s real-life girlfriend. The song commences with the sappy sentiments of infatuation, and reminds one of the utopian, fairy-tale view of love of songs like “As (Always)” on Songs In The Key of Life. Nestled within the euphoria of a honeymoon phase, both Gambino and Aiko trade flowery predictions about how their love will be produce an endless stream of sunshine. Gambino metaphorically seems to scream isn’t she lovely? A lovely feeling made from love?

This is the part where they kinda fall in love a little bit. But I feel like anything we put here wouldn’t do justice to what really happens when a person you meet ends up in your life out of nowhere. But know that it’s exactly how you expect it to be, but also more. It’s a big inside joke that you can’t mess up and only one other person in the world gets.
It’s not a very pretty or perfect love, or even necessarily a romantic love. It doesn’t look cool. It’s more like two helpless things in the wild, and one says “I’ll protect you”, and both parties know it’s a lie because there’s no way either of them can protect the other from anything. That lie is the best way to describe this love. That feeling of not having to say “I’m scared”, because you share the exact feelings without having words over or under complicate it, that’s worth more than protection. It’s a connection. The less alone. This is all we look for on earth.

Because of the internet, life is by far the biggest troll on earth. Whereas the internet provides pathways for mindless wandering galore, life and the hardships that come along with it is an irritating reminder that the internet isn’t real. Life is the alarm clock at 6 in the morning that wakes you up abruptly from blissful dreams. Because of the internet, reality is sometimes distorted and difficult to recognize, but is a swift kick in the ass when a problem arises in one’s life that is not a 404 error. There are no IT help guides either, and definitely no apps for that which is not ordinary pain. The finale to Gambino’s disc concludes with him speaking frankly about his anxieties for the future in “Life: The Biggest Troll.” Gambino knows as well as anyone that there is no escaping the grid at this point, but one can work within the web to spin out a tale of their own. It as seems as though Gambino reaches for some sort of consummate phrase here; one that will provide a warm, comfortable ending like an episode of 30 Rock or Community. But Gambino eventually realizes that there is no Shakesperian finale to this story, because it is ongoing, and unlike OK Computer, no one has the slightest clue what life mixed with cyberspace will eventually mean for us. But because of the internet, we really don’t care.

“Stay on your own shit, fuck what these clones think
Just remember that you the shit, but act like it don’t stink
We were childish but had to grow up
When you spitting real shit eventually you throw up
Realities like allergies, I’m afraid to go nuts
Life’s the biggest troll but the joke is on us
Yeah, the jokester’s showed up”

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