• James Hewlett

Because The Internet

This past week I’ve revisiting a favourite album of mine and discovering so much more about it than I ever knew before that it’s gone from being one that I really liked to a seminal masterpiece and crowning achievement in an already aspirational career.

Childish Gambino’s Because The Internet, released in 2013 is technically the sophomore effort from the versatile Donald Glovers musical persona, but it feels far more polished than most follow up albums as in reality it is at least the sixth release in five years when you include the self released online mixtapes and other works that came out before and after the debut album Camp.

I’ve been a big fan of Childish Gambino since 2011 and of Donald Glover since ‘09, I followed his career closely and listened to everything he release. I remember being worried when he posted a series of handwritten notes on his social media at the end of 2012 detailing his fears and anxieties. It seemed like he was very troubled and for the next few months, though nothing else came of it, I kept expecting to hear of this untimely passing.

I had seen him and his band on three separate occasions that year alone so when Because The Internet was released I was excited, but I’d actually started removing myself from a lot of online platforms and places so I didn’t know anything about all the supplemental material he was releasing in conjunction.

Because The Internet isn’t just an album, or even a concept album telling a cohesive story as has been done many times before. There is a screenplay, short clips for each track, four music videos, the ‘Deep Web’ tour which from clips I’ve seen was a musical gig mixed with elements of a stage show and a short film titled Clapping For The Wrong Reasons that all act as companion pieces.

The script is annotated throughout giving direction as to when each track should be played while reading it. I don’t think the intention was to ever shoot it, it was just Donald Glover expressing one of his many talents. If he had had a desire to produce the film he certainly would have been able to. It’s interesting though because he had such a clear vision for it that it is fully cast and the locations are described in such detail you really only need to watch the already made video to be able to fill in the rest yourself.

I used to consider Because The Internet probably Gambinos “best” album but not my favourite. It’s highs were certainly higher than anything else he released but I felt the album was too front loaded and lacked a consistency in its back half. Camp will always hold a special nostalgic place for me and for a long time I would have said it was my favourite release of his.

Upon consuming the album again now, with seven years of listening to it and consuming it for the first time how it was possibly always intended, all my previous qualms have gone away. The pacing is by design. The moodier pieces are meant to all be put together in the back half of the album. The lyrics I’ve been singing for years have taken on new meaning and I am now confident in calling Because The Internet not just my favourite album by Childish Gambino but one of my favourite albums of all time.

The story of The Boy as told throughout isn’t exactly relatable on a personal level and the script takes a few very intentional divergences into the surreal, more akin to Fear & Loathing than anything else, but despite that I felt a connection to the protagonist. There were lines in the script that perfectly encapsulates a thought or feeling I’ve either had in the past or even still feel today.

He is a character who is struggling to find his place in the world, who on paper should have all his ducks in a row but still struggles with everything from imposter syndrome, to learning how to grieve, to deciding if he should grow up or just keep living in arrested development.

As I said, not everything is a one to one, but it is written in such a way that I can see and empathise with the character in a way that only the very best stories manage to connect.

I walked to the shop today and was listening to one of the three best of Childish Gambino playlists I made at the start of lockdown. I was practically dancing the whole way there and back. Those playlists might be the best I’ve ever made and I’ve always put a lot of pride in my ability to craft a good mix. I wouldn’t be able to do it if the source material wasn’t there though. For that and much more I thank you Donald Glover, a true generational talent in every field he has ever attempted. I look forward to following whatever you choose you do for many years to come.


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