“The thing that pisses me off the most is when people are like, ‘Oh, Donald Glover is just using his name to become a rapper,’” he says, protective of the time he’s spent working on music, as well as how much of himself he puts into it. “I’m like, ‘Who the fuck wants to see Donald Glover rap?’ I don’t want to see Dave Chappelle rap. Who thinks that’s a good idea? Actor-turned-rapper—I don’t even consider myself that, because I was rapping before that—how is that a good base for jumping off? When has anybody ever done that and it’s worked really well for them? They didn’t have more hurdles?”
But what Glover may view as perception-based barriers, some would deem as an established opportunity for one to deliver music to the masses. No matter the point of view on his platform, though, Childish Gambino is steadily out to prove that he and his music are the real deal.
Raised just outside of Atlanta, in Stone Mountain, Georgia, Donald Glover was brought up by mom and dad as a Jehovah’s Witness in a home that included foster and adopted siblings. “We were exposed to a bunch of shit that I probably wouldn’t have [otherwise],” he says of his upbringing, which included losing a foster brother to AIDS in 1994.
Drawn to self-expression from an early age, Glover was playing around with raps at lunch by fourth grade, and by high school he was honing his artistic chops while attending DeKalb School of the Arts. In 2002, at 18, Donald headed north to New York University after scoring a scholarship for dramatic writing. Freshman year he started to record his raps for the first time, and began to put together his first project, The Younger I Get (“I don’t want anyone to ever hear it,” he says of the unreleased material.)
Though he continued to rap on the side, Glover found new interests in acting and comedy while attending college. In 2005 he and four friends founded Derrick Comedy, their own troupe, which gained an impressive following on YouTube (their breakout clip, “Bro Rape,” which Glover produced and starred in, has over 9 million views). As a result of his standout work both behind and in front of the camera, the budding comedian was hired as a writer on NBC’s critically acclaimed series 30 Rock in 2006, just two months before graduating with his dramatic writing degree.
Glover’s diverse skill set couldn’t be confined to a singular pursuit, though. Writing for 30 Rock while also performing his own comedy didn’t quite quench the multitalented go-getter’s thirst. Donald still had a desire to rap, and in 2008 he began to release his own music free to the public via his website, iamdonald.com. The first project was Sick Boi, then Poindexter followed the next year. “They were awesome, but I was doing a voice,” Gambino says of his first releases. “They weren’t jokes, but the truth was, I was just scared.”
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