Have we reached peak rapper naming? Stage names aren’t new — particularly in hip hop; James Todd Smith is LL Cool J, and Sean Combs is (once again) Puff Daddy. But lately it seems the well of rapper nom de plumes is creatively dry; I’m looking at you Yung Turd and Mr. Muthaduckin’ eXquire. This brings us to Childish Gambino — a great name by any measure, mixing innocence and menace, like good hip hop should. And legend has it Childish Gambino’s creation story began with an online Wu-Tang rap name generator.
If Gambino looks familiar, he probably is — in a parallel universe he is Donald Glover, an actor, writer and comedian perhaps best known from TV’s Community. Now focused on music, Gambino released his second studio record in December 2013, the critically acclaimed Because the Internet. Like Glover, Internet is ceaselessly creative and post-modern, like an unending loop of glitchy techno alongside cut ‘n’ paste hip hop, avant-soul and funk — all with a heavy dose of ’70s baby-makin’ sleaze.
“It’s probably easier to answer how much time I don’t spend on the internet,” Gambino told Time Magazine last year, “which would probably be the time when I’m sleeping.” And the ADHD-inducing quality of life online is reflected in the record. On the mic, Gambino is as relaxed and playful as a guy who started in standup comedy, which he did. A natural performer, he frequently recalls a less bombastic Kanye, particularly in the line-ending guttural honks on album track “The Worst Guys.”
Lyrically, Gambino doesn’t quite pull off the dirty stuff; instead of the hardcore sociopathism of Lil Wayne, Gambino leaves you kinda wanting to wash his mouth out when he raps, “In the garage/ I had a ménage.” But overall, his flow is confident — if somewhat nerdrageous — name-dropping Tyler Durden and Coachella like a hip-hop equivalent to Patton Oswalt.
Childish Gambino’s Deep Web Tour featuring special guest Danny Brown continues 7 pm Friday, May 9, at Cuthbert Amphitheater; $35 adv., $40 door.