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LAist Interview: Donald Glover is Childish (Gambino)

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Donald Glover aka Childish Gambino. Photo courtesy DG.
Last year, LAist got an early leak of the Poindexter album by rapper Childish Gambino. Or, as he's more universally known, actor / writer / comedian Donald Glover. Since then, his show Community has been picked up for a second season on NBC, he's had a stand up special on Comedy Central, the film he co-wrote, stars in, and scored - Mystery Team - has moved from theaters to DVD, and he's gotten press lately for parlaying a few tweets into legitimate talk to play the next Spiderman. Maybe.

Recently, we got to sit down with Donald to talk about the free online release of his new album Culdesac on July 2nd, past projects, the future of rap, and what makes Spiderman so great.

LAist: So Don, how did you come to start rapping as Childish Gambino?

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Donald Glover: It was kind of like a lot of other things, it was an extension of what I was already doing. I was making beats so much, it was actually a nice way to unwind, and I wanted to have somebody rap over these, and I’m like: OK, I’ll do it. That was pretty much it.

LAist: How do you find the time to make beats, rap, act, write, and do stand up?

DG: I just make beats for fun, I like messing around with it. I’m kind of a slave to it, because I go ‘Oh, I love this beat!’ and then ‘ugh, now I gotta rap over it’. Not that I hate rapping, but (Culdesac) wasn’t supposed to happen. I’m not supposed to be doing music. For a long time, it’s been ‘Donald, buckle down, start writing other stuff’. And I have been writing other stuff, but this album just took over. There’s so much to rap about.

LAist: On Culdesac you rap a lot about people still not knowing who you are. Is that a product of Childish Gambino, or Donald Glover?

DG: This album is all Donald. It really is. On one of the I AM JUST A RAPPER mixtapes, I say ‘Yes I’m on fire, Donald Glover in this bitch / I don’t need to use my rapper name, that’s just Childish’. The reason I used the moniker is because I didn’t want people to think it was a joke, but people thought that anyway. I started doing this album more as me, talking about things I go through, things I’m scared of. I think I’m a different type of rapper.

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LAist: How do you think your rapping persona has changed from Sick Boi, through Poindexter and the RAPPER mixtapes, to Culdesac?

DG: In Sick Boi, I was trying to play into something, but turn it on it’s head, like ‘Oh, I sound like you other rappers, but my voice is high, and it sorta sounds like my nose is clogged’. It was me messing around with a lot of that, and on Poindexter I did a lot of that too. The two I AM JUST A RAPPER mixtapes kind of changed everything. I was amazed at how big those got. I didn’t have to worry about making beats...I wasn’t worried about trying to have my own unique voice, and I felt people responded to that. I learned that the more general you are the more specific you are. The more you’re yourself, the more people want to hear you.

LAist: Do you think you’re gapping that middle ground between indie music and more conventional rap?

DG: I don’t think there’s really a gap anymore. Like I say, ‘the crowd at my shows are more mixed than Rashida Jones’. I think people section off these areas and say these people like this, these people like that. I really like indie music, and you can see how much it influences hip hop. Look at Sleigh Bells. They talk about wanting to work with Jay-Z some day. I would love to work with Sleigh Bells. I really feel like they can coexist...People say hip hop is dead, it’s not though. If it stayed the same, it would really be dead. It just changed a lot, and that’s what keeps it alive.

LAist: Do you have plans to do any live shows?

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DG: We’re definitely going to do shows (in LA). I’m doing a few shows in New York, and then a couple in Montreal during the comedy festival. Hopefully people will think of them as dance parties. It should feel like a house party, just scratching in Animal Collective, finding the beat with a drum over it, and just dropping in.

LAist: Talk for a second about Spiderman and the self-made Twitter campaign. Have you actually taken any meetings?

DG: Ah, I can’t talk about that. I’ll say this: it was cool that it got that level of support so fast. It was weird, people were acting like I wanted to play Jesus. It’s Spiderman. I wasn’t trying to take a stand, I wasn’t trying to make a statement or do anything. Someone brought me up, and I said I’d love to play Spiderman. That’s about it. I’m really humbled by the support...I always connected with Spiderman. I’m nerdy, I always got picked on in school, and I always felt weird. That’s what people connect with Spiderman about. That’s the heart of those stories.