**THIS STORY APPEARS IN ITS ENTIRETY IN THE APRIL 2012 ISSUE OF XXL. ON SALE NOW!**
WORDS ADAM FLEISCHER (@AdamXXL)
It’s a day of first appearances for Childish Gambino. He has just completed his first taping of The Late Show With David Letterman, where, following a performance of his new single single, “Heartbeat,” the 28-year-old entertainer was bid adieu by a paparazzi-induced flickering of cameras as he exited through a side door of Midtown Manhattan’s Ed Sullivan Theater and dashed towards a shimmering black SUV. The vehicle, packed tightly with Gambino’s sister and two-person PR team, is headed a few blocks away for Gambino’s second first appearance of the day, this one at BET’s 106 & Park on West 57th Street. “I’m more nervous about 106 & Park [than Letterman],” he says while cruising up the city’s west side. It’s a brisk evening in late December and Gambino is at the height of the promo run for his debut commercial album, Camp, which dropped the previous month and had already sold an impressive 50,000 copies. “Heartbeat,” the record he performed on Letterman, was the second single.
While most rappers bring their budding buzz to 106 as a rite of passage, few secure a Letterman gig, and even fewer do so on the heels of their first album and before making a appearance on 106 initially. Letterman is a nontraditional look for a hip-hop artist early in their career, but Gambino is not a conventional rap neophyte. It’s not just that he’s bucking the fashion-centric style of the majority of today’s rappers, instead donning an awkwardly fitting fuzzy red long-sleeve shirt, tight navy pants and beat-up sneakers to both TV interviews. There’s more.
Donald Glover, Gambino’s given name, has already experienced enviable accomplishments in the field of entertainment: a starring role on NBC’s ensemble hit Community, a standup comedy special on Comedy Central, Donald Glover: Weirdo, a three-year gig as a writer for the Emmy-winning sitcom 30 Rock and a role lending his voice to the 2011 film The Muppets.
Thanks to that versatile résumé, an array of talents and an unwillingness to be boxed into one artistic pursuit, Glover has become both hyped up and accepted in Hollywood. His rise is made for the media, as well: In 2011, he earned mainstream praise that included a spread in the September issue of GQ, a cover story in The Village Voice (on April 13) and a nod as one of “Eight Actors Who Turn Television Into Art” in a cover story in The New York Times Magazine (on September 11).
Yet, even with these accolades for his acting, which put him in position for crossover cultural relevance that only the top-tier level of rappers are able to attain (and usually only after multiple albums and singles), Glover has decided to put a great deal of his energy toward making music. His background, combined with intricate discussions of racial identity and romantic rejection and battle-ready rhymes in his songs, make the triple threat’s ascent a rare one. And one that’s tough for some to accept— but it has yet to slow Childish Gambino down.
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