Donald Glover Wants It All

May 11th, 2011

Donald Glover/Childish Gambino – The Bowery Ballroom – May 10, 2011

(Photo: Jared Levy)

(Photo: Jared Levy)

Rap, for all its variations, is a genre of conventions. A boastful MC makes his name with frank lyricism and flow. By that standard, Donald Glover is a rapper. The 27-year-old Georgia native, known when rapping as Childish Gambino, gleefully rhymes about girls, pop culture and fame with unparalleled whit. What sets him apart, however, is that rap is arguably Glover’s hobby, a well-received side project. As a day job, he costars in the NBC sitcom Community along with performing as a comedian and actor. But don’t confuse his rap career for a playful distraction. Seriously, Glover wants it all.

In front of a sold-out crowd at The Bowery Ballroom, Glover performed his first of two New York City shows on the IAMDONALD tour. Double-billed as Donald Glover + Childish Gambino, the night promised a mix of stand-up comedy and rap. For the first part, Glover displayed his affable personality, telling a story about a chance encounter with Reggie Bush of the New Orleans Saints and joking about cast members on Community. As a comedian, he’s animated and silly, balancing impressions and observational humor. However, after about 30 minutes, the show moved from comedic to musical by way of a video clip in which Glover’s future self warns him not the rap. Much to the crowd’s approval, a future, future self convinces Glover that it is far worse not to rap, and cloaked in a red hoodie, Childish Gambino emerged.

Backed by a four-piece band, including a busy rhythm section and two multi-instrumentalists handling violin, guitar and keys, the second half of the show featured early mixtape offerings like “Bitch Look at Me Now (Two Weeks)” alongside newly minted hits like “Freaks and Geeks.” And although there isn’t yet a proper release for the Childish Gambino material, a surprisingly large number of fans knew the songs word for word. At the close, audience members chanted, “Fuck rap cool,” before Glover returned, shirtless, for a five-song encore, the first a freestyle aided by Roots drummer ?uestlove. And with fans showing adamant support for both the comedian and his rapping alter ego, Glover is sure to compromise neither pursuit. —Jared Levy

(Saturay’s show at Music Hall of Williamsburg is also sold out.)