“I wanted to make something that says, no matter how bad you fuck up, or mistakes you’ve made during the year, your life, your eternity, you’re always allowed to be better. You’re always allowed to grow up. If you want.” Those are the last two sentences on the startling raw notes that Childish Gambino, the rap alter ego of Donald Glover, wrote on a hotel stationary prior to the release of his sophomore album Because the Internet. Those notes reveal Glover’s highly vulnerable psyche, and those fears and concerns bleed their way throughout the record. Because the Internet is a caustic, sprawling display of anxiety and doubt that is equal parts stunningly beautiful and joltingly scatterbrained, but it shows that Glover is looking to move on and grow up from his debut – something that he succeeds in.
After a seemingly unnecessary intro, “Crawl” kicks things off with a menacing beat propelled by a vocal sample of the one and only Mystikal (It’s always good hearing from him. You know, because it’s been so long). The track’s dark nature is a precursor to the overall production on the majority of the album. The beat creates a murky feel to the track, while the hook is one of the catchiest on the record. It creates an eerie uneasiness in the listener, one that carries over into “Worldstar”, a slow, murky track that finds Glover utilizing a more laid-back delivery, one that melds perfectly with the pseudo-hook that is the chanting of the word “worldstar”. These first two tracks find the best balance of straightforward rapping and experimental production on the record, and start Because the Internet in the best possible way.
The middle section is where Because the Internet loses its way a bit. Not that they are bad by any means, but the next five tracks (excluding the phenomenal standout “Shadows”) simply act as a bit of a lull. “The Worst Guys” and “Telegraph Ave” are the low points, the former with its grating hook and the latter with its impressive yet forgettable vocal performance. “Sweatpants” is the most fun that the album presents, and deservedly so. It is one of the most technically proficient performances that Glover delivers, and its simple refrain of “Don’t be mad cause I’m doin me better than you doin you” makes it destined to be a staple of his live show. Similarly, “3005” is the poppiest track here and is executed flawlessly. It’s catchy, and the synth-laden beat will undoubtedly propel the song to the mainstream consciousness, akin to “Heartbeat” from Camp. But while the songs are enjoyable, they seem to be a regression from what Because the Internet wants to be. The dark, isolated feel that plagues the beginning and end of the record disappears for the middle, and makes the return of those themes feel all too jarring and disorienting. The album feels disjointed at times due to this, which is a shame because it could be so much more.
The real strength of the record is in its second half. “No Exit”, aided by a soaring hook provided by Miguel, is a paranoid thriller pushed by a pulsating electronic grumble and Glover’s nearly monotonous weaving of extreme introspection. The cold repetition of “Look at the recluse” that ends the song cements the overbearing emotion that envelops the latter half of the record. The true standout on Because the Internet is the one-two punch of “Flight of the Navigator” and “Zealots of Stockholm (Free Information)”. “Flight of the Navigator” is absolutely breathtaking with its delicately picked guitar line fluttering over ambient noise, creating an enthralling atmosphere that surrounds the track. Glover’s soaring falsetto acts as another instrument, forming together with all the other floating pieces that make the track truly special. It then flows into “Zealots of Stockholm (Free Information)”, which begins as a spacey, ambient track with Glover crooning solemnly over the top. It abruptly changes, however, and the beat transforms into a growling pulse with a haunting refrain looming in the background, creating a chilling atmosphere. Glover’s nonchalant rapping adds to that feeling, and while the juxtaposition of the two styles presented on the track is fairly abrupt and jarring, it works extremely well.
Following that is the glimmering “Pink Toes”, whose sunny disposition would be at home on Camp. It also shows that Glover is still capable of making a light-hearted, pop-oriented song that maintains an interesting experimental edge to it. Because the Internet then wraps up in a fine fashion with the glitchy, dance-infused “Earth: The Oldest Computer (The Last Night)” and the closer “Life: The Biggest Troll (Andrew Auernheimer), which ends with the desperate plea of “You’re out here now/You have to help me/I need you/ You have to help me/Please help me.”
Overall, Because the Internet is an extremely strong record that falls victim to its own ambition. The production across the board is top notch, and Glover has never been as formidable as a performer as he is here. He sheds the hashtag rap persona of his past and proves his worth as both an MC and a singer, with his voice as strong as ever. Glover isn’t the problem here. The record’s sole downfall is the sequencing and unevenness it causes. The latter half of the album, as its own record, would have been one of my top albums of the year. Even an album of songs in the same vein as the middle section would have been warmly received by me. But the combination of the two styles, handled the way that they are on Because the Internet, hurts the record as a whole, due to the jarring nature of the transition between the sections. But here’s the thing: it may very well be intentional. We as listeners have no idea what Glover’s true intentions were on Because the Internet. He wanted to create something special. And I didn’t even touch on the multi-media aspect of the record, which is an interesting yet overwhelming touch. While I believe that Because the Internet fails in certain areas, I have to give him credit for attempting to do something innovative, and we can only hope that his focus becomes even more refined going forward.