You might not know the rapper Childish Gambino, but there’s an above average chance that you’re familiar with Donald Glover’s other work. When not assembling mix tapes under the name Childish Gambino, he’s spent the past couple years writing for 30 Rock, playing Troy on Community and writing and performing skits with the Derrick Comedy group. In short, the guy’s hilarious. But it turns out he’s actually a pretty good rapper to boot. And really, quite possibly the only rapper who lists the Long Winters as an influence.
He’s released two mix tapes as Childish Gambino and to celebrate, he agreed to a quick interview with me. So head over to the above link to download his mix, which includes tracks culled from Grizzly Bear, Animal Collective and — believe it or not — the new Knife album. That’s right, someone rapped over “Colouring of Pigeons.” You’re a brave, hilarious man Donald Glover.
Donald Glover / Childish Gambino :: the YANP interview
YANP: Your song “Get Like Me” was featured prominently in the trailer for Mystery Team. Was there a big response from that? I had to google it when it first came out and I found a lot of people that were looking for it too.
Donald Glover: Yeah. It was great. I got a ton of emails immediately, and I didn’t think there was going to be any. I just wanted to make a song that fit the trailer. Something dark and fun like the movie.
I love that you manage to work in Shining Time Station — probably the only TV show that’s never made its way into rap lyrics. What would you say are some of your favorite completely random reference in hip hop? Or, if you’d rather, what rapper/group always has the best obscure references?
I mean, MF Doom comes to mind first. Some of your geekier groups like The Pharcyde. But much like in television, I only like a reference if it’s completely relevant. The Gonzo line in “I AM JUST A RAPPER 2” is one of my favorite, because it fits me perfect. “Oh, he’s weird and likes “chicks”.” I like that stuff. But I don’t want to be the “Not Another (Teen, dance, etc.) Movie” of rap. I wanna tell a story. Not a barrage of things you remember from other things.
What bands or musicians influenced you the most growing up? Who influences you the most now?
My dad was always playing Funkedelic. I loved them. But my first CD’s that I wore out were The Cranberries and No Doubt. I was in love with them. But in college was when I started toying with music and also started listening to rap for the first time. Jay-Z, Pharcyde, Lil Wayne. That coupled with the Sufjan Stevens albums I was obsessed with and stuff like The Long Winters. I think those had the biggest influence on my sound.
Continue reading the rest of the interview after the break.
How’d the collaboration with MC Chris come about? Had he seen any of your comedy work?
Yeah, we knew each other from the comedy scene in NYC. And I loved Sealab 2021 and ATHF. I knew he did stuff at the Upright Citizens Brigade, which is where I was interning. I just asked someone for his email and asked if he’d be on my first album. Thank goodness he said yes. He’s on some of my favorite CG tracks.
Now that you’re a bit more established as an actor are you more likely to do more mixtapes because quicker and easier to fit in your schedule or take the time to record an album with original or cleared samples?
The two I AM JUST A RAPPER mixtapes were so refreshing to me because I’m so used to having to make all my beats. And that takes so much time. I’d love to make full albums with someone else behind production, but I only trust me right now (laughing). I really do. Plus I want this next album to be produced with no loops. I’d love to have a rock producer be behind me. I’m kind of done with loops. I wanna start making songs. Songs can grow. Instruments can leave, come back, and trick you. I wanna make music that other rappers can sample if they want.
Unless I’m wrong, you made the move from NYC to LA recently. How does being a music fan and musician differ between the two? Who’s got the best record stores?
It’s easier to find old shit here. Old school records are EVERYWHERE. I love it. You guys have the second-hand corner on lock. But as far as new shit record stores, I haven’t found one here I’ve felt completely comfortable shoppin in yet. I still get all my new vinyl in NYC. I feel the pressure of trying to “make it” as a musician in LA a lot more. I wanna tell em “we’re literally living in the best time to be an artist ever.” You can make and sell and tour as an artist is you own a computer. That’s it. I get a little weird when people ask “When you gonna do the music thing for real?” I’m like “I am!” I don’t really need a label. Maybe if I was Lady Gaga and dealing with advertisements in Japan, but for now, we’re all on the same playing field.
Where’d the name Childish Gambino come from?
Wu-Tang name generator. I thought it really fit me. But nowadays it’s just something to say. I use “Donald Glover” on IAJAR2 and “Culdesac” a lot. It’s me. I don’t see the point in trying to trick people into thinking it’s not. Everything I rap about is real shit about me.
Were there any songs you were hoping to rap over the the mixtape that for whatever reason didn’t make the cut?
Yo La Tengo’s – Autumn Sweater. I kinda rapped over it already with DC Pierson on my VERY first mixtape that NO ONE WILL EVER HEAR (laughing), and I thought it wasn’t right for what I wanted and it’s kind of an old song. Also Lust for Life by Girls. It’s the second time it hasn’t made the cut. I don’t think I can fuck with Christopher Owens’ sincerity on the track.
What’ve you been listening to lately?
St. Vincent, Drake, Yes Giantess, Vampire Weekend, and The Knife. Those are the big ones. And Wayne is always in there somewhere.
Who out of the Community crew (besides yourself) has the best taste in music?
Joel McHale loves music. But Joe Russo is always listening to crazy shit. It’s dope. And Danny Pudi rocks some ill old school Polish music which I should be sampling right now. Alison Brie really likes dirty hip-hop, which I just find adorable.
What’s next on the schedule for Childish Gambino and what’s next for Derrick Comedy?
I’m gonna gather things together for “Culdesac”. And Derrick Comedy is getting back together for another project. I’m excited about it! I’m thinking about I AM JUST A RAPPER 3, but the more I get into it, the more time they take. The first one I made in a weekend, this one took a week and a half. If I start another, I may have to quit Community, and I don’t want that.