Hello Trove fam! After three long weeks, I, the Miles Marinello, Lord of the Trove Blog, have returned, in all of my humility. I’ve since traveled the nation, seen some bluegrass in Nashville, eaten glorious barbecue in Memphis, gone to a five story interactive museum in St. Louis, and watched my sister get married in front of Grand Teton in Wyoming. It was a grand time, but it’s good to be back with you all! And I’ve returned, once again, with a scene to present to you all.
It’s the early 1990s. A young African American boy, probably 11 or 12, is wrapping up dinner with his parents and younger brother. They’re Jehovah’s Witnesses, so while the boy really wants to eat something else, they had eaten turkey yet again, as their mother approved of little else.
Eventually, the parents put the boy and his brother to bed … or so they think. The boy waits, making sure his parents are asleep, then sneaks off to his brother’s room, a Talkboy recorder in his hand. His brother wakes up groggily, but on seeing the recorder, leaps off his bed. The two brothers sit on the floor, huddled around the recorder. The boy flicks it on, and the theme song of “The Simpsons” begins to play; the boy, in secrecy, had recorded an episode earlier when his parents weren’t paying attention.
This mischievous boy would eventually grow up to write for “30 Rock,” become a rapper, play a young Lando Calrissian, create one of the most acclaimed shows in TV about life in his hometown of Atlanta, and craft one of the most symbolic and layered music videos this blogger has ever seen. This boy was Donald Glover, and now, at the age of 34, he has taken over the world, and woven himself through every fabric of pop culture. And he’s done it all in his own jaw droppingly ambitious, usually perplexing, but always unique way. Basically, he’s … the man.
From Childish to Gambino: A Little Bit of Bio
Donald was born on September 25, 1983, on at Edwards Air Force Base way out in Cali, but was raised right here in Atlanta, by Stone Mountain, along with his younger brother, Stephen. Their parents were Donald Sr, a retired postal worker, and Beverly, a retired daycare provider. The Glovers were indeed Jehovah’s Witnesses, a fact that I think would surprise many people (sure as shootin’ surprised me!), but while Stephen and Donald were raised under fairly strict religious rules by their mother, their father was a bit more lax, letting them watch forbidden media such as … Bugs Bunny and Bill Murray.
His appetite for the creative officially whet, Donald began his masterful, old fashioned pirating of “The Simpsons.” His passion for the arts (and “The Simpsons”), eventually brought him to the Dekalb School of Arts, where he legitimately graduated with the superlative “Most Likely to Write for ‘The Simpsons,’” a hell of a confidence booster if I’ve ever heard one. He kept the creative ball rolling (a ball that really hasn’t stopped rolling at all) and moved on to one of the most prestigious art schools in the country, the NYU Tisch School of the Arts -- he went to school with Lady Gaga! I’m absurdly jealous of this man’s entire life.
So “The Simpsons” is your inspiration, you get a superlative about it, you’re about to graduate from a ridiculously high class art school, so what’s your next logical step? Well … try to write for “The Simpsons.”
Unfortunately, though, for once in his absurdly wonderful life, Donald fails. He writes a spec script for the show, but it never gets in the right hands to get him on the staff. It does, however, eventually get into the hands of a young woman fixing to run what would become one of the most lauded shows of the decade, a woman by the name of Tina Fey. The show was “30 Rock,” and Donald, at TWENTY-THREE YEARS OLD (hate this guy) was invited to be a writer for it.
So begins the legend of Donald Glover.
Oh, the Places You’ll Gambino!: Donald After Atlanta, but Before “Atlanta”
Donald wrote for “30 Rock” from 2006 to 2009, being a part of the writing team for the show’s three-year Emmy reign as Outstanding Comedy Series, while also being a major force behind Derrick Comedy, a sketch comedy group that rocketed to popularity thanks to YouTube.
Suddenly, however, Donald quit “30 Rock,” and was unemployed for years as he searched for his next big step.
Except that’s a lie, and this talented freak of a man bagged a job SIX days after quitting “30 Rock” as a main cast member on none other than NBC’s cult classic comedy “Community.” As high school jock turned nerd Troy Barnes, Glover was a main cast member for the shows first four seasons. On top of that, he almost booked the lead role in the “Spider-Man” reboot thanks to a massive fan movement and petition that even Stan Lee supported. SOMEHOW, he was never even asked to audition, and the role went to Andrew Garfield instead. What a Shakespearean tragedy.
But nooooo, being a major recurring cast member of the critically successful “Community” and almost playing Spider-Man wasn’t enough, Donald had to do more. Enter the birth of his alternate, rapping persona, Childish Gambino.
Having always been interested in music. He did some DJ work in college under the pseudonym … mc DJ, perhaps a creative low. Donald decided to begin a new front of attack, and officially enter the music business. He started with a few mixtapes (see “Sick Boi,” “Poindexter,” and “I Am Just a Rapper”) while on “Community” but, on leaving the show in 2013, Gambino really took off. By the way, he made his name from a Wu Tang Clan Name Generator. Try it here, it’s fun! Mine is B-loved Bandit, prettaaaay accurate. He released the studio album “Because the Internet” in 2013, a solidly reviewed rap album. But it turned out entering the business with more traditional rap was a brilliant bait and switch, as he followed “Internet” with 2016’s “Awaken, My Love!” an undeniably bizarre albeit awesome album that was not as much rap as it was some sort of funk psychedelic hybrid, featuring what was then his biggest song, “Redbone.” (What a great song. “STAY WOKE.”) As it would turn out, 2016 would be a pretty big year for Donald.
The Gloves Come Off: Donald Goes Home to “Atlanta”
Despite the endless stream of accomplishments the man has managed to rack up, it’s almost universally agreed that his greatest accomplishment is his FX series he named after his hometown, “Atlanta.”
The premise of “Atlanta” is a simple one, but good god, it is not a simple show. But in another shrewd bait and switch, Glover and his brother Stephen presented the concept of the show to FX just as I will present it to you now, in their words; “Earn Marks (Glover) and his cousin Al Miles (Brian Tyree Henry) work together to make it in the rough music industry. Al got famous for shooting someone and now he’s trying to deal with fame as an up and coming rapper, and Earn will have a new song for him every week. Their friend Darius (Lakeith Stanfield) will be the funny one, and the gang’s going to be all together.” Sounds good, right?
Except that’s not the show. Well, it is, to a degree. But that’s like saying “The Godfather” is “a family drama about Italians in America.” (Yes, I just compared “Atlanta” to “The Godfather”. #noregrets.) Instead of a straightforward comedy about the music industry, “Atlanta” is instead a deep and profoundly surreal experience, occurring in a world that isn’t quite our own, but similar enough to it that the social and political relevance of the show isn’t lost on us. In “Atlanta,” Justin Bieber is black; the fictional Black America Network (B.A.N.) runs racially charged children’s cereal commercials; a rapper runs down a crowd in an invisible car; “Florida Man” is an urban legend committing atrocities in the Sunshine State; and a ghostly black man in whiteface named Teddy Perkins keeps his star musician brother locked in the basement (Teddy, a terrifying figure, is actually played by Glover, who is absolutely astonishing in the role.) It’s in this thrillingly strange world that Earn, Al, Darius, and Van (Zazie Beetz), the mother of Earn’s child and an outstanding character in her own right, must navigate through, as they struggle to deal with fame, the age of the internet, failure, parenthood, and racism.
Speaking of, “Atlanta,” with subtlety, speaks volumes about the subject of racism, as all of these characters are faced with obstacle after obstacle in modern society because of it. Glover and the other writers for the show (including his brother) don’t beat you over the head with their characters’ struggle with their race. Instead, it’s done with genuine pathos and authenticity, just normal people in an abnormal world that doesn’t treat them fairly. And that’s thanks largely to the fact that, in a circumstance that has never happened in television history, the entire writing staff for “Atlanta” is black. With the incredible writing and stylish, tonally jarring direction from Hiro Murai, “Atlanta,” at risk of using a cliche, is like nothing on television. Maybe like nothing in the history of television. For the remarkable first season, Glover won Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series, and also became the first African American to ever win Outstanding Directing as well.
“This Is America:” Donald Glover’s New America
With the sophomore season of “Atlanta,” subtitled “Robbin’ Season” after a period of high crime in the city, having just wrapped, Donald Glover mania has reached a fever pitch. Not only has “Robbin’ Season” received even greater acclaim than its Emmy-winning predecessor, but Glover is fixing to star in the new Han Solo origin film “Solo” as a young Lando Calrissian, and is also currently working on his voice role as Simba in a live action remake of “The Lion King.” If that weren’t enough, Childish Gambino is still hanging around, too, as Glover plans to release one more album under the persona soon. The album’s first single, “This Is America,” dropped last week, along with a music video for the ages.
Fresh off of the creative phantasmagoria that was “Robbin’ Season,” Glover and his “Atlanta” collaborator Hiro Murai came together to create the video for “This Is America,” and proceeded to blow up the internet. If you’re not one of the 130 million people who have watched it, please do so immediately. I myself have seen it at least four times, as the video unfolds like a freaking novel. It operates under the guise of a catchy trap tune, but it’s something else entirely. In the first minute alone, Glover dances his way through a warehouse towards a black man playing a guitar, throws a bag over the man’s head, and shoots him point blank. What follows is an absolute cavalcade of symbolism and depth, as Glover dances through the warehouse, rioting and violence occurring around him. The level of detail in the video is extraordinary, as Glover makes references a casual viewer would never catch. At points he contorts his face and body to look like Jim Crow as he commits crimes against African Americans; a white horse with a masked figure rides behind him, signaling the apocalypse; guns in the video are gently placed on a red cloth, representing America’s adoration of the second amendment. Hell, even Glover’s pants are symbolic as they’re pants worn by soldiers in the Confederacy.
But that’s Donald Glover for you. He could’ve just made “This Is America” a straight rap video of him dancing. He could’ve just made “Atlanta” a hilarious, light-hearted comedy about friends hanging out and trying to make it in music. But the man never stops trying to create something we’ve never seen before, something that truly resonates in the racially and socially chaotic times we live in right now. In an article by The New Yorker, it was documented that Glover keeps a note on his wall that reads “Make the best sand castle.” Do what you can, all you can, while you can. Not a bad way to live, Mr. Glover.