What sets Because the Internet, and by proxy Childish Gambino, apart from the rest of the rap albums released this year is the fact that it isn’t really a rap album. At least not on it’s face. Childish himself has said in interviews that he doesn’t consider himself a rapper. He sees that categorization as tacitly derivative. We may do a hard eye-roll when he says he’s “not a rapper, but a musician”, yet this album truly backs that statement up.
The album is a hodgepodge of your favorite modern urban music with a hipster flair here and there. What makes it good, but ultimately frustrating to write about, is that every song covers so much ground. He can move from Juicy J-style Atlanta rap to Maxwell-infused R&B crooning all on the same song.
And it would be one thing if he had these disparate styles on the album through features and the like. But that it’s just him going through all of these different styles, flows and genres makes it even more impressive.
It’s definitely clear that he sees the difference in musical styles too. The album is split roughly in half, with the tougher, distinctly Mike Will Made It-esque hip-hop bangers like “Worldstar”, “The Crawl”, and “Sweatpants” on the first half. With “3005” as a bridge of sorts, the second half of the album takes more of a turn toward airy-Drake-style R&B with some clear pop-music-intended twists.
Comparisons are often too simplistic to capture the nuance of something like an album, but Drake’s Nothing Was the Same would actually be a good example of the kind of thing Gambino has put together, albeit with less my-girlfriend-broke-up-with-me-I’m-sad songs and more general life confusion tracks. But (and this may sound like blasphemy to some) Gambino’s falsetto sounds a lot better, and his late-20s-life-confusion lyrics are a lot more relatable and varied.
Not all of the songs are definite wins, and the lack of cohesion between tracks is disconcerting at times. He manages to wrangle up some great features on the album, but wastes almost all of them by stranding them on just the hook. A verse from Chance on “The Worst Guys” and Problem on “Sweatpants” seemed like expected great additions, except the songs just ended without them doing anything but reciting the chorus. He manages to get a good assist from Jhene Aiko on “Pink Toes”, but other than that, and two throw-away features in Azealia Banks and Lloyd, the album is purely Childish.
On the lyrical front, Gambino leaves a lot to be desired, especially from someone as smart as him. On the later tracks he delves into his personal feelings about life, the internet and other topics. But from a rap standpoint, he stays pretty aloof. He’s definitely better than most in the wit department, but most of the rap songs have almost no depth to them. Nobody is looking to him for Talib Kweli-level symbolism, but it wouldn’t have killed him to try and move beyond stuff that just sounds good.
He definitely straddles the line between trying to make a critically good, experimental album and making an album of rap bangers and pop/R&B hits. It’s probably some mix of the two, so I have to give him props for not going too far in either direction.
But for me, I judge most albums based on whether I think another artist could produce something similar or better. And on that front, Childish has produced something distinctly his. You won’t hear another album like this, for better or for worse.
“The Crawl” – Sort of a misleading start to the album, but a great banger nonetheless.
“Worldstar” – If you secretly enjoy watching the ignorant garbage on WorldStar like the rest of us, you’ll identify with this song.
“The Worst Guys” ft. Chance the Rapper – Great hook from Chance and a good melody. I can see people being pissed about not getting anything else from Chance though. This is the kind of beat he goes off on.
“Shadow” – The first of the more pop-stylized tracks, but it works. If you listen close enough, you can hear some hints of Outkast influences in there. And the second half of the song is really great.
“Sweatpants” ft. Problem – I had the same feeling about this one as I did for “The Worst Guys”. If you’re gonna put Problem’s now signature “waahhhhhh”, then you have to give him a quick 16. It’s kinda just cruel not to. The Fisker part is great too.
“3005” – Weird, distinct beat. Should be a hit if it isn’t already.
“Flight of the Navigator” – Pick a self-described “hipster” group out of the hat and compare it to this. It’s as simple as Gambino and a guitar.
“Urn” – Closest thing to Maxwell I’ve heard since… well, Maxwell.
“Pink Toes” ft. Jhene Aiko – I generally hate songs like this, but it’s a pretty great melody and Aiko’s verse is more hip-hop than Gambino’s, which should throw you for a loop.
“Earth the Oldest Computer” ft. Azealia Banks – This is pretty much the definition of “going pop”. But it’s a great song. The second half is a lot better than the beginning.
“Life the Biggest Troll (Andrew Auerenheimer)” – This song is what I expected most of the album to be. Glad it came at the end though.
“And I took chance like a dice roll, dropping jewels like it's puberty
Wrote a note on the glass, ‘you see what these labels do to me'
Texts said ‘I'm Wet’, I said 'hold up, wait up a minute'
H2O plus my D, that's the hood I'm living in it
Never forget this feeling, never gonna reach a million
Eventually all my followers realize they don't need a leader”