Photos by Melissa Welliver

Childish Gambino, Danny Brown

Ace of Spades, Sacramento – Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Childish Gambino’s Camp Gambino Tour sold out Ace of Spades months in advance. The line to get in stretched the length of the R Street block and wrapped down 14th, halfway to S Street. Inside it was a patient wait through one opener to see a young Hollywood actor from NBC’s Community, Donald Glover, take the stage as a rapper.

There’s no use hiding it. The opener was Detroit’s Danny Brown. A recent signee to Fool’s Gold Records and the artist I anointed as Rapper of the Year 2011 in another publication. As for Childish Gambino’s debut record Camp… I gave it a few listens in November and deemed it overrated. Glover’s Camp record is not as painful as Brian Austin Green’s One Stop Carnival album in the ‘90s, but if he’s serious about rapping over acting he’ll live in the shadow of Drake. But what the hell do I know? Danny Brown had a few pockets of fans in the first row shouting his gratuitous lines from his XXX album back at him. Childish Gambino had wall-to-wall admirers reciting every word to a song that shares its title with a TV show, canceled after 12 episodes.

It was his show for the taking and it’s easy to revel in the limelight with such positivity electrifying Ace of Spades. No songs faltered or lulled the set. It was hit, hit, hit for Gambino and even the time lapse for an encore seemed insignificant. He was impressive, but I did not leave converted.

My struggle with Glover/Gambino does not stem from questioning his talent as a performer or even as a songwriter. He’s a clever rhyme writer, interspersing wit culled from his stand-up like, “I sound weird, like nigga with a hard R” and references to Invader Zim. His balance between nerding out and sneaking in sentiment testifies to his mass appeal. He tours with a talented backing band, half of which look as though they toured with Travis McCoy, while the others possibly play violin behind Justin Vernon of Bon Iver. His stage presence is not the issue, and the giant screen displaying lyrics, forest landscapes and scenes from the streets of New York City were not the issue. It lies in not knowing how to perceive his craft.

The name Childish Gambino was conceived through the use of a Wu-Tang name generator, making it difficult to assess it as genuine or satire. The campy name paired with Glover’s notoriety as a stand-up comedian, his far superior talent in my opinion, and presence on a sit-com, lean towards the notion he’s a parody. So why weren’t we all laughing? Why was everyone singing along in earnest?

There were opportunities to laugh–plenty of them. Danny Brown exposed himself as an avid participant in cunnilingus by performing “I Will” and wagging his oblong tongue between his missing front teeth. He earned a few laughs beyond the front row by letting his followers deliver punch lines from “Monopoly” like, “Stank pussy smelling like Cool Ranch Doritos.” Childish Gambino is not short on humor either. He and Brown are contemporaries in rap humor as both love bragging about their sexual virility and their haters’ lack thereof. Guess which line is Danny Brown’s and which Childish Gambino’s is:

I fuck bad bitches to Stacy Lattisaw, while y’all niggas got blue balls like an Avatar.

My dick is like an accent mark, it’s all about the over Es.”

The first quote is Brown on “Adderall Admiral.” The second is Gambino on “Bonfire.” Did you get it correct? I could split fine hairs like this for paragraphs and end up with an even part resembling the top of Crispin Glover’s head, but what’s the use? Danny Brown doesn’t have a television presence, which is still more powerful and influential than being critically lauded on the Internet.

Glover’s an act worth the price of admission. Place him in the recent crest of celebrities like Zooey Deschanel and Scarlett Johansson, who’ve earned successful recording careers. The trend could be gruesome and transparent, were the named figures less talented. It’s undeniable that their recording triumphs are assisted by their TV and film notoriety. Glover is privileged, but his closing statement on “Bonfire” (“Man why does every black actor gotta rap some?/ I don’t know, all I know is I’m the best one.”) hints that he’s aware. It could be worse. The actor/artists could cover Celine Dion instead of Tom Waits, perform alongside Sugar Ray instead of M. Ward, and bring Mac Miller on tour instead of Danny Brown. They should always be commended for their fine taste.

    Blake Gillespie

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    Bourbon enthusiast. Infrequent shaver.