Donald Glover, aka Childish Gambino, has become a blueprint for the black rap nerd archetype. The first few years of his career (circa 2008) were a series of beautiful moments in the life of blerd representation in the underground (and then the mainstream in years after). In fact, at the very beginning, his music was so black nerd specific that I had many friends who laughed at Bino and rescinded my aux cord privileges for weeks. But now it's clear who was right and who was wrong in that situation, right?
When I say that he's the best, what I really mean is that Donald Glover was, in many ways, the first to crack open the door. There were other big rap artists who hinted at it or made a few references to blerd culture on the sly, but Childish was unapologetically speaking about the black nerd experience in a way that almost no rapper (especially a successful rapper) had ever done before
That confidence in his identity and willingness to share (and overshare in some cases) served as a beacon of hope for many mild-mannered, introverted blerds like myself.
Here's a list of sonic moments that highlight his journey toward the blerd rap revolution:
1. "B*tch Look At Me Now"
Although the early days of CG didn't contain the best of his bars, and even he admits that he played up his rap persona a bit, there was still a very proud black nerd aesthetic to his material. Lines such as, "Frodo from Chicago, really small and shy," or "Stay hard like my suit made by Tony Stark," make it pretty clear what he's about. Not to mention the references to high school bullies and that "kid name Vincent" who had it out for him that are really relatable if your childhood was anything like mine. The sample of Grizzly Bear's "Two Weeks" (which was not a cool thing to do at the time) is the cherry on top
2. "The Real"
"The Real," which samples Sleigh Bells' "Infinity Guitars" is still in the early days of bad audio mixes, but the potential was there. There are Powerpuff Girls references and a line about Borders, a book store that has since gone out of business
3. "Do Ya Like"
The project Culdesac seemed to be a culmination of the previous Childish projects. The mixes got better (thanks to Ludwig), song structure and hooks got stronger, and he seemed to settle into his identity on tracks. There's even more blerdy content about everything from the Thundercats, talking white and trying to fit in. "Do Ya Like" is fan favorite on the tape. He refers to himself as a "Black Clark Kent" and drops a line about the "Donald for Spiderman" campaign that was on fire at the time. He also makes it clear that he's, "Hovy with glasses," or "Weezy, but geeky."
If you're a Bino fan, then you know this was a very big turning point in his music career. Around this time is when the buzz was as big as it had ever been. It was almost cool to be a Childish supporter. The quality of the tracks doubled and the lyrics only got more ferocious. Donald seemed to be owning every insulting black nerd stereotype in a way that removed the power to hurt us. This is also the very first time I ever heard the term blerd used in my entire life. However, according to Genius, we owe it to the Scrubs writers room. I can't say for sure, but I'm pretty sure that this is the first time anyone used it in a rap line ever, so I rest my case. Donald Glover is the black nerd rap champion we waited for our whole lives
Did I just discover the origin of blerd (after this guy)?
There's also a really cool story in the outro of the last song on the Camp album, you should listen if you haven't heard it
5. From this point on Gambino only gets better.
Very solid Adventure Time reference in this one
6. And then he broke the game wide open.
There's a nice Mufasa line in this song. In general, this project is the most creative, with a screenplay that went along with the album track by track. And don't worry, you can still hear references to all manner of blerdy things, such as Japanese anime memes, The Little Mermaid, Playstation and more. Gambino never changed on us.
It seems like any music in the future is up in the air, but his FX show Atlanta is definitely getting closer to air. We still have all this music to listen to and great memories of when the blerd rap music movement was just a seed in the mind of a fellow identifier from Stone Mountain, Ga
What's your favorite Childish Gambino blerd moment? Let's talk about it in the comments.