Arts and Entertainment

Donald Glover, Jack of All Trades

A look at the artistic versatility of Donald Glover (a.k.a. Childish Gambino).

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In his 2011 song “Hold You Down,” Childish Gambino proudly raps, “I won’t stop until they say, ‘James Franco is the white Donald Glover.’” Listeners have unanimously interpreted this line as a claim from Gambino that he would prove himself to be more artistically versatile than James Franco. Franco, who got his start on beloved TV show “Freaks and Geeks,” is known for being a multifaceted figure. Besides acting, he has written, produced, and directed film and television, done some painting, and even received an MFA from Columbia University. So it certainly makes sense to treat Franco as a benchmark. But has Gambino stayed true to his word?

Gambino, otherwise known as Donald Glover, initially put himself on the map by acting in the sitcom “Community,” after writing for Tina Fey’s “30 Rock.” However, he is most widely known for his career as a musician. His vast discography has made Gambino well known and backed by a large fanbase. Glover nudged his way into the music world with a 2002 mixtape titled “The Younger I Get,” though he later informally repudiated the project, considering it misrepresentative of him as an artist. (Other mixtapes included a Sufjan Stevens remix album, an instrumental album, and the “New Year’s Eve Extravaganza Mix,” which absolutely slaps.) Glover released all of these projects not under the name “Childish Gambino,” but “McDJ,” another alias. Yes, he also used to DJ (at least in some capacity).

The name “Childish Gambino” became his official musical alias with the release of the 2008 12-track mixtape “Sick Boi.” Glover released his first EP as Gambino, fittingly titled “EP” in 2011. Later that year, Glover put out his first studio album, “Camp,” and in 2013, he released “Because the Internet,” featuring the RIAA Platinum certified “3005.” He released the “EP Kuai” in 2014, and in 2016, he released the album “Awaken, My Love,” which was heavily influenced by psychedelic funk rock. Ludwig Göransson, Glover’s producer on the Gambino projects, specifically cited Funkadelics as an impactful force throughout the album’s production. “Awaken, My Love” was a definitive step away from the rapping that had characterized most of his mixtapes, but produced Gambino’s most successful single: “Redbone.” Boasting a quintuple RIAA Platinum certification and numerous other accolades, it proved Glover to be a contender in other musical genres. The album itself was nominated for the Album of the Year and Best Contemporary Album at the 59th Grammy Awards. However, Glover didn’t land a number one single until his 2018 hit, “This is America,” which, along with its music video, served as a commentary on gun violence and—you guessed it—the turbulent state of America. At the 61st Grammy Awards, the song won Record of the Year, Best Music Video, Best Rap/Sung Performance, and Song of the Year.

Backtrack a few years to 2015, and Glover had returned to acting, this time on the big screen. He had roles in “The Lazarus Effect,” “Magic Mike XXL,” and “The Martian.” The FX television series “Atlanta” premiered in 2016, further boosting Glover’s Hollywood credibility. As the creator of the show, he not only starred in “Atlanta,” but also wrote, executive produced, and sometimes directed it. He was recognized by the Primetime Emmy Awards for his performance on-screen with the award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series and for his directing with Outstanding Directing for a Comedy Series (both in 2017). 2018 saw the induction of Glover into the Star Wars universe as he filled the shoes of Billy Dee Williams, portraying Lando Calrissian in “Solo: A Star Wars Story.” Amid mixed reviews of the movie, Glover’s performance emerged unscathed, generally commended by critics. In a disappointed review, The Washington Post’s Ann Hornaday only gave the movie two stars, but described Glover as being “perfectly cast” for the role of Lando. One year later, Glover voice acted as cinema’s favorite lion cub, Simba, in Jon Favreau’s “The Lion King.”

As he bounces back and forth between music, film, and more, Glover has time and time again proven himself a jack of all trades. He refuses to go down as a one-trick pony, and he certainly has talent enough to support himself in this pursuit. There’s no telling where Glover proceeds from here, but I guarantee that he will create remarkable art while defying all expectations. He will continue to experiment, and loyal fans will be there to support him throughout his artistic journey. Glover is an inspiration to all those whose ambitions are too vast for the well-beaten paths.