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How Donald Glover is Redefining Hip Hop & Urban Culture

Words by Kendra Hunsley

“I wanted to show White people, you don’t know everything about Black culture.”

A modern day Renaissance man, Donald Glover moves further and further away from the prescribed box that society so vigorously tries to stick him in. When you think you’ve finally figured him out and attach a subtitle along side his name, he deviates into a new creative realm. Although one cannot contend that there have been a string of artists before him who have successfully crossed artistic spheres and garnered reverence for their display of creative nuance, no one has done it quite like Donald. Glover is a writer, actor, producer, director, comedian, rapper, singer and songwriter who has been able to shift between creative offerings so effortlessly and skillfully.

Donald’s first induction into the industry was at the age of 23 as a writer for the NBC hit series ‘30 Rock’ where he stayed on for 3 years. While at 30 Rock, the inception of his music alter-ego ‘Childish Gambino’ emerged by way of his first musical offering “Sick Bio”. Which, looking at his later work, was a passable project and indicative of him finding his footing in the industry.

Unveiling his talent in acting and having gained more recognition, Donald starred in the NBC comedy series ‘Community’ as Troy Barnes; a former jock who breaks free of people’s perceptions of him and adopts a nerdy persona. In-between rehearsals, Gambino released ‘Poindexter’, which displayed more lyrical strength as opposed to his prior offering, but still fell victim to subpar production and facetiousness. Since then, Glover dropped a handful of mixtapes and three albums including his most recent project ‘Awaken, My Love’, a part-soul part-funk album, which strayed away from his usual hip hop ring, proving once again that his creativity knows no bounds.

The album starts out with ‘Me and Your Mama’, where he flaunts strong vocals enwreathed by erratic instrumentals and rock star screeching. Paying homage to the genres of yesteryear, influences of 70’s funk are perceptible in this album. His second single ‘Redbone’ is his most successful single to date. His ability to stretch himself creatively is stirring. Performing a creative inspection of his catalogue, his musical offerings have been refined with every project he has put forth and his growth as a musician is notable.

As with many creatives within the entertainment industry, Glover has put out work that, looking back at it now, has probably resulted in a heap of regret. His prior comedic offerings have come into question and left a bad taste in a lot of people’s mouths due to his problematic statements. One of them being ‘Bro Rape’, an early sketch by Derrick Comedy which he starred in as a rapist. ‘I think it’s odd that you can’t joke about rape, when people joke about murder all the time.’ Glover once said, carelessly trying to justify such a repugnant act and poor choice on his part.

Created by and starring Donald Glover, ‘Atlanta’ was one of the most anticipated and commemorated series of 2016. The show follows the life of ‘Earnest’ (played by Donald Glover), a Princeton dropout who lacks a sense of direction but is driven by the urge to prove those around him wrong. He looks to his cousin as his way out, an up-and-coming rapper named ‘Paper Boi’. Together, the pair navigates through the ‘hustle’, exhausting all possible contingencies to help break into the Atlanta rap scene. Consisting of all Black writers, the show is a mash-up of hip hop, discourse around societal issues like race, police brutality and the many plights of the Black man, surrounded by humour and everything else in-between.

Taking place in a city seeped in Black history and the cornerstone of hip hop, the series exhibits the city passed the surface based attributes that the general public may have come to know of it. Within the current political and socio-economic climate in America, the series is extremely pertinent. It’s very much a ‘This shit is for us’ production with all the idiosyncrasies distinctive to Black culture. The versatility of the show taps into the many facets of Blackness. Its relatability and realness is refreshing, along with the dry humor that coats consequential topics but not too much that you miss the message. The enjoyable aspect about the show is it isn’t based around the typical notion of the Black experience which is so often laced with galling generalizations and stereotypes.

The show went on to win two Golden Globes for ‘Best TV Series or Musical’ and ‘Best Actor in a TV Comedy of Musical’ for Glover. “I really want to thank The Migos, not for being on the show but for making Bad & Bougee”, Glover added in his acceptance speech. One could not help but wallow in the amusement of the biggest song in Black culture being given daps at an elitist gathering with people who could not be further removed from that very culture. Glover marches to the beat of his own drum, unaltered by societal standards and expectations. He’s an archetype of creative artistry. A salient figure in pop culture.

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