Review Summary: He certainly lives up to the first part of his name...
Donald Glover. Is there anyone that has been more active this past year? Between his hit TV show "Community", his stand-up comedy tour, his work with Derrick Comedy and this project, he has achieved more in a few months than most artists achieve in their whole career! This free EP released in March was the latest in a series of releases by Glover in his Childish Gambino guise, but is it any good?
In a word, quite. Glover is clearly very skilled at making poppy yet hard-hitting beats; a fantastic example is "Not Going Back (ft. Beldina Malaika)". The build from the quiet, piano-led introduction to the attack of the drums and gang vocals perfectly complements his somewhat conflicted lyrics and creates a wonderful ebb and flow to the piece. Moreover, his flow is spectacular. He is biting, yet endearing, as showcased in "Freaks and Geeks", which is probably the most well known track from this EP, and for good reason too. The song is 3 and a half minutes of pure fire with punchline after punchline, leaving the listener unsure whether to dance or to laugh hysterically. Glover manages to combine his wit with his raps in a way that leaves most rappers looking rather morose, coming up with killers like "I got some pussy that was insane/So insane it's an enemy of Batman" and "E.E. Cummin' on her face/Now that's poetry in motion". The whole song is just like one big dick joke interspersed with references to indie rock bands: "While you niggas masturbate, I'm in that Ariel Pink", but that is clearly what Glover is best at.
When Glover veers from his comedic, playful self into some Kid Cudi-like introspection, things tend to go a bit awry. "Be Alone" almost reaches emo-rap territory with ruminations on parental loss and rejection by girls before it is saved by lines like "Here I go again, talking money, women and clothes and cars, right?/You could switch all of my words out with Plies' right?" Elsewhere, his singing takes away from the intensity of the song, giving it a Drake-like tilt which is cloying at best. Moreover, his attempts at being a role model for "smart, middle-class black kids" seem hackneyed and a little fake, especially as he refutes "backpack rap" and "nerdcore" elsewhere in the EP.
Glover is clearly at his best when he is at his raunchiest. His punchlines are always on point, yet somewhat obscure for those who don't know pop culture like the back of their hands, giving him the persona of the charming, yet filthy nerd. The listener always gets a sense that even when his is boasting about his "swag" or talking about the girls he has been/will be with, he has his tongue placed firmly in his cheek. When he moves away from this persona, he loses that goodwill. With a full-length album reportedly in the works, it remains to be seen whether Glover can bring his best consistently, or if he will peter out and fade away. With a flow like his, let's hope that it is the former.