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Ryan Buell | The Beat

Making sense of ‘Because the Internet’

Published: Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Updated: Tuesday, January 28, 2014 02:01

I’ll readily admit that in the past I’ve written Childish Gambino — whose real name is Donald Glover — off as gimmicky, too reliant on so-called “hashtag” raps and famous only because of his role on NBC’s “Community” (2009 - present). However, his most recent album “Because the Internet” (2013) proved that the rapper/actor/comedian is indeed capable of much more. Instantly quotable, it’s clear that Gambino has perfected his funny, punch line driven formula on this latest effort. Yet, the catchy, swirling beats, his improved flow and the darker overtones of the album represent a giant leap forward in terms of his musical depth. The opening track “I. Crawl,” with its bluesy chords and schizophrenic background vocals, immediately shows that Gambino has set his sights on creating thought-provoking music — he opens the album’s first verse with the question, “Who am I?”

On “II. Worldstar,” Gambino delves into the effects of the Internet as he raps, “To record this, ain’t nobody can ignore this / I’m more or less, a moral-less individual.” This ties into the greater theme of the album: the omnipresence of the Internet. But it isn’t until “II. No Exit” that Gambino begins to realize that this constant interaction and stimulation has left him feeling empty: “Spider crawl in the corner, brown recluse. So appropriate.” By the end of the album, on “III. Life: The Biggest Troll,” Glover can’t seem to distinguish between himself and his alter ego Gambino, just as he can no longer discern his real life from his virtual one. His reality is skewed by his computer screen, and he can’t seem to make sense of it. He sees that, “Because the Internet, mistakes are forever,” yet he realizes that, “the day you born, that’s really your death sentence.” It’s a fascinating dichotomy that seems to place the album in a greater context about the role of the Internet — its potential and its emptiness.

To accompany the new project, Glover scripted a screenplay and a number of short video skits set to the album — it’s a uniquely creative project that allows him to further explore the themes and questions he’s posed. He casts himself as a young, unnamed man from a wealthy background, working as a blogger who gains fuel from pop culture, meaningless retweets and online trolling. Letting the music set the mood, Glover uses the screenplay to ponder the questions that haunt him: has his success alienated him from everyone around him? Will it mean anything years later? In the age of the Internet, is anything real? There are no real answers provided — even the questions themselves are difficult to discern.

A further twist in the convoluted task of delineating the messages behind “Because the Internet” is the vast array of accompanying media that Gambino produced. For example, the screenplay frequently involves the term “Roscoe’s Wetsuit,” confounding the main character and the audience alike. There is a secret track listed in the screenplay, hinted to be accessible only by a code that fans have yet to crack. Additionally, Gambino’s website had a large number of pages that could only be accessed by entering specific URLs into a browser. (They have since been redirected to his tour page.) There is no indication as to what any of these memes could mean, or if they even mean anything at all.

For all these questions posed in Gambino’s album and screenplay, there seems to only be one answer: “Because the Internet.” His hashtag rap and his music career blew up “Because the Internet.” The character in his screenplay is both famous and questioning the importance of his life “Because the Internet.” And perhaps “Roscoe’s Wetsuit” and the secret track are nothing more than meaningless memes intended to prove that anything can become a cultural phenomenon these days “Because the Internet.”

 

Ryan Buell is a sophomore who is majoring in psychology. He can be reached at Ryan.Buell@tufts.edu.

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