In our very first analysis video, we dissect the meaning behind Childish Gambino’s iconic “3005” music video.
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An abstract graphic animation that envisions The Boy’s surreal experience of a world somewhere in between life and death, this video follows the abrupt ending of No Exit. This animation is scored by BTI’s next track (audible in the video), the beginning of Act 4, “Death by Numbers.”
Death by Numb(ers)
The title holds a duality: organic and geometric, natural and digital: death and life being natural states, and numbers representing the digital through lines of code and technology. The title represents the coexistence of the two, their interwoven nature and the heightened tension between them.
“Slide baby, I’m gonna let it go / No one has to know, so let it / Slide.”
Amidst a dreamy haze of distortion, Gambino lets go of his grip on his mortal coil and slides into another state of consciousness, perhaps even experiencing the beginning stages of death.
We also notice the use of the word “slide” again, as we’ve seen the Brown Recluse Spiders ask The Boy “……where are you?,” and then “…………….who is this?,” before the direction, “…don’t slide.” What Gambino sings here, “Slide baby, I’m gonna let it go,” is him telling himself to stop wrestling with the pursuit of purpose as he gives up and slides toward death.
In short, the video is symbolic of the algorithmic interconnectedness of all things, conveyed through the integration of symbolic shapes and patterns and the fusing of natural and digital building blocks of the universe. It’s a surreal experience brought on by The Boy’s overdose and near-death experience. These are the patterns, the loops that make up the algorithm that encompasses all.
First, there is an old-timey countdown circle…
…followed by a rotating pyramid which contains a series of smaller pyramids.
This cuts to a waxing and waning visualizer of ovals…
…followed by the above bright kaleidoscopic array.
Next, a loading-type animation depicts a series of circling lines surrounding and uncovering a rotating triangle.
This gives way to a blood-red orb that expands and distorts…
…in front of the blind-like artwork from the back of the physical CD…
…which we recognize as nearly identical to the orb from the visualizer for the opening track, The Library.
This series of images then gets broken by an extreme close up of Glover’s mouth as he says “wow” in tandem with the track. It’s as if his mind is blown by the visions he is having as he slips away…
…but this vocalization is followed by a shot of a rotating disco ball, shining…
…until a new countdown appears, with the text saying “Life” as it counts down; 3..2..1… and the same high-pitched loading sound as happened at the end of I. Crawl.
You can recognize each of these visualizers rear-centerstage as moving paintings framed in The Boy’s living room as part of The Deep Web Tour.
During performances of this track, a screen fell in front of Gambino and depicted the album’s liner artwork, a series of clashing geometric patterns.
These graphics also appeared in The Boy’s Room installation, and which designer Brian Roettinger described as an attempt to represent the influence of technology on contemporary existence.
Circles and spheres are often associated with life, cycles, and nature.
We’ve seen them pop up in BTI with the infinity pool, spiral staircase, and more. Perhaps most simply, the circles play off the idea of the Circle of Life – the perpetual cycle of life and death.
Gambino combines these circular images with triangles – both two dimensional and their three dimensional counterpart, tetrahedrons (or pyramids). Triangles are traditionally symbolic of strength, action, or movement. There’s a reason the “play” symbol is a triangle – it represents action, in part because it indicates direction.
The triangle also represents strength, as it is the most solid structure – the only rigid two dimensional shape. There’s a reason it appears so often in architecture, and this is also conveyed in one of the most infamous human representations of action and power: the pyramids.
The tetrahedron plays a special role in Gambino’s vision of infinity, of a space containing both reality and fantasy. The tetrahedron is the building block of our three dimensional world.
Seriously. Watch the video below:
The tetrahedron is the simplest building block of three dimensional reality, and the sphere a representation of life. Glover and Roettinger combine these images with match cuts when and where The Boy exists in a plane between life and death. It’s a trip that attempts to make clear the connections that can be made between everything, the infinity of us all.
Recall the Ferris Wheel of 3005, and its importance in developing the notion of infinity throughout that portion of the BTI world.
The larger exposed shape of the wheel presents itself as a circle, but looking close you see it is created out of beams in triangle formations.
Taking a look to the future of Glover’s career, we see a similar utilization of the shapes in the album cover for “Awaken, My Love!“
The headpiece worn on the cover is actually a dynamic piece of jewelry, a circular shape constructed via many movable triangles and angles – as seen in a behind-the-scenes research video from Pigeons & Planes.
The animation of Death by Numbers is a vision of that togetherness and the future of understanding what is real and what isn’t, what’s true and false. Let’s try and develop the visual building blocks to see how Glover and Roettinger arrived at the graphic animations which convey these ideas. For instance, imagine True and False to be two points in space. These two concepts might be separate.
Now, draw a line to create a spectrum, since we understand there might be gray areas. There could be degrees of truth within a false claim, for instance.
But now let’s take into account subjectivity, the infinite different perspectives that might be perceiving this spectrum, and realize that different perspectives might have completely different ideas of true and false. So we take that line and we rotate it 360 degrees to make a circle.
But that isn’t enough, since that only exists in one dimension, so in order to truly account for the infinity of perspectives and connections, we have to spin and rotate that circle…
…until it makes a three-dimensional sphere…
…like the ones seen in The Library and here in Death by Numbers. This is an expansion of duality into infinity, a reckoning with the immense potential, chaos, and interconnectedness of the universe. And also, they’re all loops, repeating patterns.
This is what The Boy sees as he dies – this is what makes him go, “Wow.”
The disco ball plays off of the fluctuating scarlet orb representing truth and the universe and suggests the fun and dancing of the parties The Boy has become sickened with. However, the disco ball adds the element of reflection, as each panel reflects light and illuminates the outside. The Boy will re-evaluate his frustration, and attempt to see with the light he now recognizes.
The Boy has seen his equivalent of the pearly gates in his near-death experience. These are the patterns, the loops that make up the algorithm that encompasses all.
As the animation nears its end, the word “LIFE” appears on screen, followed by a 3 to 1 countdown. This signals The Boy coming back to consciousness, and as “Death by Numbers” ends, we hear the same clicking, loading sound that we heard at the end of the song “Crawl.”
Flight of the Navigator
Above, the trailer for the film that shares the same name. The track has an interesting backstory related to the film, one that Göransson explained on Genius.com:
“Flight of the Navigator” is produced by Childish Gambino and Ludwig Gorrannson. The track has an interesting backstory, one that Goranson explained on Genius.com. Quote “This is the first song I did on BTI. I remember coming to the mansion and wasn’t really sure about what to expect in terms of my involvement of the album. I hadn’t seen Donald in a while and I felt I had something to prove in terms of being creative and coming up with new sounds if it was gonna be good enough for BTI. We had talked about the movie flight of the navigator earlier during the day so I named the song file flight of the navigator even before we started writing the music.“
– BTI producer Ludwig Göransson
On the Deep Web Tour, Flight of the Navigator was preceded by this monologue from The Boy’s mother, voiced by Gabrielle Union. This time, instead of being represented on stage by a white orb projection, her presence is glowing rainfall.
I had a dream.
I had a dream I was flying over all of us.
There were so many pretty people, so many pretty faces.
This passage depicts a dream sequence, an out-of-body experience as he flies “over all of us,” a group that includes himself, a picture of utopia, beauty, and bliss. The flight also refers to the title of the song, taking the perspective of a “navigator,” someone who is able to look ahead, to map out where to go.
This also correlates with the alien subplot in the music videos. It seems that the ‘outsider’ qualities he feels allow him to use his subjective to see us from another perspective, a superpower that Glover then uses to craft his work and connect with us.
“I talked to some birds, I fell in love again.”
The birds match the flying concept of the dream, while falling in love again alludes to the myriad of failed relationships we’ve seen The Boy grapple with.
The phrase “I fell in love again” also might allude to the opening line of the song Chicago by Sufjan Stevens.
Glover is a massive Sufjan Stevens fan, dedicating an entire mixtape of remixes to Sufjan’s songs, including Chicago.
In Chicago, Sufjan details numerous road trips, celebrating the freedom and mistakes he makes, all the while acknowledging the influences of everything surrounding those journeys. Thematically, it’s this concept of journeys as means for discovery that Gambino might reference on Flight of the Navigator, as The Boy will take something from this unconscious revelation.
“And we sleep in tradition, keep ‘em off in the distance, to tell you, that we haven’t been.”
Here, it seems that ‘tradition,’ the way things have been, refer to the systems our society has in place, and those systems are the darkness obscuring our connections. Our society imposes inequitable law and justice practices and an economic system that requires some people to lose in order for other people to win. Above, this same theme represented in Atlanta.
“Cause I don’t know where to go / and no one else seems to know.”
In a song that embodies so much vulnerability, these lines grapple with Glover assuming the role of navigator – of using The Boy as a model for us to learn and grow through. In interviews, Glover would speak about his adoption of this role and his responsibility in our evolution (as he does in the interview above).
“So we’re left alone, no one left to call upon.”
The dark calling, the fallen knight, these are stand-ins for death, the inevitable outcome of life. But also, a “calling” is a purpose – a reason to live that is first felt, and then responded to. The “dark calling” of death is a reminder that the end result of our life will be lonely death – and this is dark. But this reveals that, while we can, we must call, must find our calling, our purpose. And it appears that the ultimate, most universal calling, is that of each other. The suffering of having no one to call upon, of being lonely, can be abated by the inherent calling we have for one another.
As the song ends, having asked to be held close, Gambino’s final words are “cold wa.” It’s “cold water” cut short. The cold water has been the wake-up call for Gambino on this track, and by ending with these words, the track itself becomes a wake-up call, something we see reflected in the scene Flight of the Navigator scores in the screenplay.
Golden Girls playing on TV adds to our growing list of 90s sitcom references throughout BTI. These 90s classics are symbols of internet nostalgia, indicative of our resistance to moving forward. Given Glover’s comments above, it’s clear that the dead laughs of Golden Girls highlight the need to move forward.
When The Boy talks to the Nurse, their conversation is direct and unforgiving. When The Boy flippantly dismisses the Nurse’s suggestion that he talk to someone, the Nurse doesn’t coddle The Boy. Instead, he points out that if The Boy really had wanted to leave, he would have done so, a statement echoed by Glover in interviews at the time.
When Gambino announced Because The Internet’s live show — the Deep Web Tour — it came by way of an online poster on his website. Included with this poster was a written passage that gave context to the tour and BTI more generally.
“Where’s the ground? Where’s earth? Where’s mom?”
And now we’re headed somewhere. Moment to moment. But we don’t know where and we can’t stop [living]. The internet, our new earth, moves forward only. Leaving behind a curated record.
“Because the Internet” was made to be the soundtrack to this new coding. The reworking of our humanity. Trying to find [each other/ourselves] again after the big bang. Every soul looking for each other like every drop of water looks for the ocean.
Both this passage and Flight of the Navigator convey the experience of journeys after the loss of a mother, and call us to action after the realization that we are all one, all looking to connect with each other.
The passage from the poster continues:
The rules of the internet are the rules of our new universal language. Like the Bible, like the Constitution, we make rules to break later and be better. Pushing forward until we are all just a bodiless conscious. Buzzing through the air trading information, conversing, testing ideas without fear or violence. Free from limit.
Glover again imagines a world in which humanity becomes a formless, bodiless conscious — a harmony and unification only made possible through the free exchange of ideas without the fear of being judged by others for being wrong or making mistakes. Glover often compared this modern push toward freedom to the Civil Rights movement, daring people to take a stance, free from the fear that they might be wrong later.
The passage from the poster concludes:
We have reached a moment where there is no “real” because we don’t care anymore. We can curate what’s real everyday on our timeline or feed. The boundary of what’s real and what we want to be real is as volatile as the worth of a bitcoin or a human heartbeat.
This is an important moment.
But be[a]ware that we’re all making it up as we go. Together.
Our human collective unconscious.
Our deep web.
Learn [to/the] code.
Flight of the Navigator is Because The Internet’s vision of the human collective unconscious as The Boy, our navigator, gives us a tour of Glover’s beautiful vision of the utopian state of true unity and total freedom. From that first line, “I had a dream,” which subtly nods to Martin Luther King’s famous vision of equality and freedom, Glover similarly conveys an experience of unity and oneness.
She chose The Boy, her descendant. And as evident by The Boy’s symbolic status as a universal figure, she chose us – meaning, we ought to choose each other.
“I had a dream”
That first line of “Flight of the Navigator” – “I had a dream” – also begins a new loop within the narrative – and while we won’t be able to Dissect the follow-up projects, STN MTN and Kauai, here’s the first words Gambino speaks there:
It’s another lyrical loop, akin to the one we observed from “rec league” to “look at the rec” in the first half of BTI. After the central transition period of “Death by Numbers,” this now begins a loop tying this album to the follow-up mixtape and EP as a cohesive narrative. The suggestion of this pattern seems to be that any struggles towards freedom are to be repeated – that progress occurs in cycles.
After the wedding scenes that 3005 soundtracks in the screenplay, the script cuts to The Boy playing piano at his mansion as people start to arrive for yet another party, prompting the beginning of Act 3, the aptly-titled “Playing Around Before the Party Starts.”
The mansion is starting to get messier and messier, and apparently the cleaners have stopped showing up because they weren’t being paid. There’s trash everywhere, surfaces are sticky, and you can’t slide around on the floor. The script mourns this: “Now, dried alcohol stops you before you even get to the kitchen door. The Boy really loved sliding into the kitchen when he was a kid. It was the closest you could get to having powers.“
The “slide” metaphor here is that The Boy is stuck. But we also recall that we’ve seen this word “slide” during “Dial Up”, where brown spiders said to The Boy lying in bed, “……where are you? …………….who is this? …don’t slide.” This latter command of “don’t slide” seemed a response to the existential questions they posed — encouraging The Boy not to run from them.
The shots above are to be played in tandem with the pre-party scene, where rack focus fades in and out in a series of close-ups. Pay particular attention to The Boy’s outfit: different shades of white, brown, and black, as the walls and piano maintain the same color scheme. As a contemplative moment, Glover uses The Boy’s outfit to craft The Boy as a universal figure.
We’ve previously noted Gambino’s commitment to The Boy’s outfit – the same clothing items worn by The Boy in the film were worn publicly by Gambino and Glover for more than a calendar year.
The colors in The Boy’s outfits are the same color palette used in the clip for “Playing Around…”: a mixture of whites, browns, and blacks. These seem to serve as symbolism for the different colors of human skin. There are a few other symbols throughout BTI that feature this color palette as well. Most notably, s’mores and cows.
Given this perspective, it seems that the outfit functions as an indicator of universal application: The Boy is a figure that represents all of us, a symbol we can all find ourselves in, something we can use to project our own perspective and experiences upon. This is the reason he is referred to only as “The Boy” in the script, and when other characters use his real name, it’s edited out. The Boy is the internet generation’s Everyman.
“You don’t remember me though, that’s fine. I was gone before we really got to know each other…”
“Playing around…” often opened live performances, preceded by a voiceover from actress Gabrielle Union, as heard above. The Boy longs for exactly the sort of connection it appears his mother is trying to make with him from beyond the grave.
…I wish I had something important to say but how you’re feeling I know you probably can’t even hear me...
Playing around on the piano, thinking about everything, it seems The Boy is looking for a connection with himself, or his memories. We can only hope that he hears her before it’s too late.
…Can you hear me?”
Act 3 of BTI continues with “The Party,” produced by Childish Gambino, Ludwig Göransson, and Pop Levi. We first hear people chattering as the party begins, and the track warps into a grimy synthesizer accompanied by light shuffling percussion. Above, The Boy hits a vape.
“Infinity pool, and statue that’s Buddhist. / Got bottles and bottles and bottles of Grino”
We have reference to the infinity pool, a fridge full of Pellegrino, and a Buddhist statue at the mansion. Recall that the mansion represents The Boy himself — high on top of a hill, a symbol of status and wealth, referenced in Sweatpants as his “AKA,” or “also known as.”
Don’t forget, in Clapping for the Wrong Reasons (at the timestamps above), the pool and Buddha were emphatic images. And it was here that Gambino rapped another lyric about Pellegrino: “Mouth to a Pellegrino, bottle color of envy / I hand the waitress a Benji to act like she never met me.“
“10K for the drinks, now they say I’m insane.”
After Gambino goes off on the people around him, he pivots off skepticism of his sanity, pointing out “it’s been that for a minute now, Hedi Slimane.” This references Kanye West’s oft-quoted 2013 interview with Zane Lowe (above), where West perceived a slight from the fashion designer Hedi Slimane and exclaimed in rebuttal that rap ran culture, and that he, Kanye West, ran culture.
In an outburst similar to Sweatpants, Gambino builds to a shout: “I didn’t invite all these people to my motherfucking house, get the fuck out of my house!” Like the Sweatpants outburst, Glover aligned this moment across multiple BTI platforms – including in live performances of the track.
Pictured above on the stage set of The Boy’s mansion, a crowd of fans and team members would be on stage, drinking and chatting. When Gambino arrives at this moment, he would turn on them.
The embedded film clip in this section (also embedded in the [internet version] of Clapping for the Wrong Reasons) notably includes a shot of a random man in a scuba mask looking around the infinity pool. Is that…Roscoe? It’s a touch of surrealism that adds another layer to our investigation of the pervasive Roscoe’s wetsuit mystery box.
After The Boy goes berserk and leaves the mansion, the screenplay instructs us to play the album’s next track, the final song of Act 3, No Exit, an allusion to philosopher Jean Paul Sartre’s play of the same name.
“3 a.m., stare at the ceiling, murder the feeling”
The lyrics reflect a frenzied thought pattern, painting an impressionistic scene of The Boy lying awake at 3 a.m., with “murder the feeling” reflecting both his destructiveness at the party as well as an apparent desire for him to rid himself of the feelings he has. “3 AM” is also a reference to a song by Eminem of the same name, wherein Em describes a string of murderous crimes, reinforcing the darkness and mortality present in the track.
“Spider crawl in the corner, brown recluse…so appropriate”
A recognition of the ironic parallel between The Boy and the spider (both brown and recluse), The Brown Recluse is a deadly spider native to the southeastern states of North America – perhaps most notably, Georgia, the home state of Donald Glover, adding a layer of connection between the spider and our protagonist.
“Playing Lil Durk ‘this aint what you want’ / look at my feet I put my sneakers in the trunk”
With the lyric noted above, we hear the noise of The Boy putting his shoes in the trunk and the sounds of Chicago rapper Lil Durk’s track Dis Ain’t What U Want playing from his radio, likely chosen to reflect The Boy’s lack of pleasure from his cornucopia, from his wealth. This literally isn’t what he wants, reflecting the idea that regardless of socioeconomic status, there is still an existential loneliness, a feeling that we can’t be understood, that others wouldn’t want to be in our shoes.
“Park by the bridge, sit on the hood, / look at the cars, stare at my hands, look at the moon”
The Boy is disassociating; his thoughts scatter. Given the suicidal ideation that’s led him to this point, we’re tense to see him on a bridge – but he focuses on the cars passing by (a reminder of other people), and his hands (a reminder of himself). He then looks at the moon, the feminine celestial body in which The Boy’s deceased mother appears in live shows offering guidance. Now looking for this guidance, he discovers: “I can’t find it, it’s gone, what’s wrong?” He’s losing his guiding light, unable to see in the darkness.
We’ve seen The Boy and his crew visit In-N-Out twice in the script, and now he visits Fatburger. Later in the song he’ll visit McDonalds.
Fast food might be a metaphor for the type of instantly gratifying practices that rob The Boy’s life of true sustenance, of true meaning. Juxtaposing the motivic appearances of cows and eating in BTI, we see The Boy throw out his Fatburger, perhaps at the thought of the plight of those cows.
We also recall the diner conversation from Sweatpants, which we viewed to be a discussion about wealth, and the power and opportunity it affords. You could let the cows live i.e. use wealth to uplift lower socioeconomic classes. Or you can kill the cows because accumulating as much wealth for yourself is the goal, and if it means you have to take from others, then so be it. It’s a dog-eat-dog world, every Boy for himself.
In this way, the cows of the slaughterhouse are a metaphor for humanity. Remember their colors are reflected in The Boy’s outfit, a stand-in for their symbolic presence as a universal symbol. The Boy is beginning to see himself in the cows, so to speak. He can no longer live so selfishly, no longer willing to hurt others for his own gain. So he throws the burger out.
“Late at night in a hurry bought a McFlurry / and half of an apple pie”
Reflecting the Fatburger of verse one, Gambino raps about a McFlurry with an apple pie in it, which, turns out, blended or not, is a ‘secret menu’ item at Mickey D’s.
“When I’m laughing, I’m satisfied.”
The only times we’ve seen The Boy laugh so far are when joking about police brutality or when thinking about cows in the slaughterhouse while eating a burger, so he hasn’t been satisfied much. Laughter seems directly correlated to issues of mortality, of an inability to escape death. Perhaps Glover is embodying the worlds of one of his favorite philosophers (above), Soren Kierkegaard.
Look at the recluse
look at the recluse
look at the recluse
look at the rec-
With the cutoff lyric, Gambino just closes a loop on the first half of the album, here at the suicidal moment. The intent behind this connection is cemented when we notice two more things:
First, the track “No Exit” sees the album’s runtime pass the 50% mark, enclosing the first half of the album in a near perfect, symmetrical loop, linked together by the opening “rec” in “rec league” on Crawl and the closing “rec” of No Exit. Second, the title “Crawl” is exactly what spiders do and what we do on the world wide web, revealing a metaphor about an exploration of identity in the internet age.
Likewise, on a smaller scale, the final fixation on the spider mirrors Gambino’s first lines of No Exit. This completes the parallel structure of verse one and two, and taken in totality, we understand how they are dark reflections of each other. Verse one and two create a loop: a loop within a loop within a loop – and it appears The Boy wants out.
Like Flying Lots said in Clapping: “Patterns”
In the script, verse two corresponds with The Boy’s return home from the bridge. As The Boy ruminates on his dark reflections, he sits directly in front of the Buddha statue, in the same pose as the Buddha. This statue has been a key motivic image throughout Clapping for the Wrong Reasons, the script, and lyrics, and operates as a central figure to understanding Glover’s performance art at the time.
BTI’s album cover is actually a crop of the photo above. Like The Boy, the Buddha, whose original name was Siddhārtha Gautama, was born into a rich family, and his own crisis of faith and existentialism was spurred by the first time he saw death and famine firsthand. The Buddha became a religious model for those experiencing their own crises. Furthermore, the Buddha emphasized in his teachings the presence of loops, specifically in the idea of Samara, or the cycle of reincarnation that binds us to earthly existence.
Looking back at the recluse
Having now reached the end of the third act in both songs and script, we are at a point where we can fully understand the significance of the Recluse.
A powerful, multi-layered symbol, the Brown Recluse spider and Glover are native to Georgia.
Spiders weave webs to catch prey – but these webs are also beautiful tapestries of connection, a home for the spiders themselves.
Metaphorically, this presents the internet, the web, as a place of simultaneous danger and beauty.
And recall the #Donald4Spiderman campaign, where the internet went ablaze trying to cast Glover in the role of the hero. It was his first real bit of national publicity, something he’s commented on frequently (above). In this sense, we understand the brown recluse is a symbol of the existential dangers of the internet. The internet warps our sense of self, increases the frequency of connection with others in a volatile manner, and is something that we don’t really have control of.
Recall the Jean Paul Sartre play of the same name, in which the most famous line is Garcin’s ultimate proclamation that “hell is other people!” Parallel to The Boy circumstances, by the end of No Exit, the three characters are driven mad — Estelle attempts to kill Inez, but since they’re already dead, is unable to do so – which Inez further demonstrates by failing to commit suicide by stabbing herself.
We’re reminded of the multiple loops throughout BTI, including the looping structure of the first half of the album as well as the two verses of “No Exit,” dark reflections of each other that show wherever The Boy runs, he cannot escape his feelings and dilemma. He sees no exit — just inescapable loops.
This connection between Garcin’s and The Boy’s situation is inherent in their names:
Garcin = “Garcon” French for a young man.
You know, like “The Boy.”
The play is an allegory, a depiction of the existential dilemma. Garcin’s ultimate response to this dilemma is enacted in the final moments of the play. After all three characters laugh hysterically at the realization they’re stuck together forever, Garcin famously says, quote “well, let’s get on with it.”
The Boy’s option is the same as Garcin’s.
He must get on with it.
In our first ever video analysis, we break down the 3005 music video (above).
Still in Oakland, the crew head to a hotel for the night and see a wedding happening in the lobby. The crew leaves, but The Boy stays to watch the wedding. While filming the couple dancing, an older Indian dude comes up to The Boy, a sort of “meeting with the mentor” in traditional literary structures on The Boy’s current “road of trials.”
The term “mentor” comes from the character of the same name in Greek mythology. In Homer’s Odyssey, the goddess Athena appears to Odysseus’s son Telemachus disguised as Mentor and, throughout the epic, guides Telemachus with wisdom and encouragement. In BTI, the older dude offers a reality check, questions The Boy’s faulty ideas of relationships, and seems unimpressed by The Boy’s choice of using his time to troll online.
3005’s producer Stefan Ponce’s presence on the track interacts with his presence elsewhere in BTI, as he is cast as AJ in the script, the pill-popping fun guy who’s DJ name is “Twercules.”
You can listen to a few of Twercules’s mixes above on Soundcloud.
@DJTwercules on Twitter, featuring only posts from November of 2013. Ponce also provided the opening act for Gambino on the Deep Web Tour, playing a DJ set and overseeing the initial use of the Deep Web App, which would be a chatroom and whiteboard projected on stage where the audience could interact with each other and members of ROYALTY.
Ponce appears, throwing up after a night of drinking (above), dancing, and playing music throughout Clapping for the Wrong Reasons.
Click above for Stefan Ponce’s interview on NPR.music Live Sessions.
The track begins with the hook, as Gambino sings in perfect iambic pentameter, a pattern of five poetic feet each containing first an unstressed and then a stressed syllable, most often associated Shakespeare’s sonnets, many of which center on the ideas of love and romance. To that end, 3005 begins as a love song.
As the pledge to be “right by your side ’til 3005,” which resembles a wedding vow, is cut off with “hold up,” Gambino simultaneously implies doubt while pledging commitment, similar to Telegraph Ave. Above, Glover rejects the idea that the song is a straightforward love song, instead highlighting the existential qualities of the track.
“On the radio, that’s my favorite song”
“My favorite song” is a reference to the Chance the Rapper song from his album Acid Rap, featuring a verse from Gambino.
“Now the thrill is gone, got no patience, ‘cause I’m not a doctor / girl why is you lying, girl why you Mufasa.”
This line appears to have originated at Gambino’s freestyle during his 2012 Coachella performance with Kendrick Lamar and Danny Brown. As we’ve seen in the narrative, Gambino isn’t enjoying the party lifestyle anymore, and he laments the thrill being gone.
“Everything we do – sex, art, all that shit – is us trying to feel how we feel inside someone else; how someone else feels like. We’re all connected, we’re like water droplets. Every drop of water on Earth, the spit in my mouth, is trying to go find all the other water. Like we all are trying to be connected and the internet kind of made this thing happen where we could either use this for good, like us growing, or [for worse]. ”
His fear of the future is tempered by the thought of partnership, of having someone with him as they go forward. This was also mentioned in the Instagram notes, and speaks to the song’s attempt to capture an innate human dilemma.
It seems that although Gambino wants an eternal bond, outside forces are reminding him that he doesn’t have one, and his doubts are growing. Glover once explained the “hold up” phrase as his expression of this doubt (above) on Power 106.
“I used to care what people thought, but now I care more.”
Gambino admitting that his existential musings have only exacerbated his concern with what others think about him. However, Glover’s Instagram notes included the line: “I hate caring what people think.” It’s a nuanced distinction, one that Gambino attempted to explain on the Arsenio Hall Show.
Labrador yapping, I’m glad that it happened, I mean it.”
The “labrador yapping” is a sign of distress, and reminds us of Gambino giving context to the track by recounting the scary dog he would protect his sister from as a child. On the song Crawl, we also heard Gambino rap, “I still put it down like the family dog.” And on What Kind of Love, an unfinished track released a few months after BTI, Gambino rapped, “Why get a dog? It’s just gonna die.”
This seems to be one of the central ideas in 3005’s music video, which features a Teddy Bear, another symbol of innocence and joy, that sustains an increasing amount of injuries as Gambino and the bear ride a ferris wheel. Fun fact: The Teddy Bear cost $59.99 from Toys R Us.
Again, if you haven’t yet, you should watch our video that analyzes the 3005 music video in full required viewing in tandem with this episode.
Lemongrab – Adventure Time
The surreal scene at the end of the wedding scene in the script describes humanoid creatures parading around the wedding reception. These creatures are a pretty close match to Lemongrab, the character who rules a parcel of land in Adventure Time, but grows up wealthy and secluded. Lemongrab is directly referenced in the scene, so the connection seems deliberate.
Pendleton Ward, the artist of Adventure Time, was called on to create merch for the string of intimate mansion performances, and his series of shirts and a hoody depict a cartoon Glover facing four different monsters in the style of Adventure Time.
The call for Lemongrab in the script here thus alludes to a piece of pop culture being utilized throughout BTI, and the creatures play on the childish-but-stressful qualities of the imaginary characters.
The tie between a wedding and grabbing lemons or “Lemongrab” also shows up in a scene in Clapping for the Wrong Reasons, where Glover or Gambino or The Boy is having a conversation with Danielle Fishel, who played Topanga on the 90’s sitcom Boy Meets World. Recall this show was just referenced by Swank when the crew was watching the wedding. While Fishel picks lemons from some small lemon trees, she describes to Glover a recurring dream of her wedding, where everything is a disaster.
Glover struggles to carry all the lemons as they walk out of the garden, which is a nod to the “why can’t i hold all these limes?” internet meme that was popular in the early 2010s.
Glover speaks about the reason for casting Danielle Fishel with MUCH.
In contrast with this wedding setting that runs through 3005, the lyric video of 3005 shows Gambino in a chatroom and webcam interaction with former adult actress Abella Anderson. It’s a different sort of relationship and connection than that of the traditional institution of marriage.
By the end of 3005, we’re ultimately left wondering, is it possible to get to a point where you don’t need someone else to give your life purpose? Is that type of fulfillment exclusive to love of another, or can you find it solely within yourself? Can you be alone without being lonely?
Some of us are scared of solitude, and so we seek solace in marriage, in relationships, in social media.
3005’s hook then is a desperate plea in the midst of this crisis. It is a clarion call into the void, a rescue rope thrown overboard into the vastness of an empty black sea.
The Question is…
will someone, something, anything respond?
Will he find purpose?
Will he find connection?
After leaving the diner, The Boy and his crew arrive at an Oakland hotel hosting a wedding between an Indian bride and white groom. While watching the wedding they argue about interracial relationships and if the groom gets any “interracial points.” Swank references the 90’s sitcom Boy Meets World and says the groolm is “doing what white guys been doing since forever.: exactly what he wants.”
Sweatpants, which scores two scenes in the script, will in part function as an examination of identity, context, and how and why we choose to present ourselves.
“Fuck you money”
The script opens with The Boy and his crew stunting on a club by ditching after dropping a stack of ‘fuck you money’ on the table. It illuminates the idea that rich people can do whatever they want, whenever they want. See the shots above, from Glover’s FX show Atlanta.
“Got her hair done, French braids, now she A$AP“
A$AP Rocky, who famously had his hair in french braids on the cover of his 2013 album LONG. LIVE. A$AP. Given that hair is a representation of self-expression and sex appeal, Gambino’s statement that she now looks masculine is an insult, which leads to the next line: “Bino so insensitive, she asking ‘why you say that?’” Reminiscent of Nyla asking The Boy “What is wrong with you?” after lashing out at her boyfriend, Gambino and The Boy are trapped in a cycle of hurting those around them.
“Rich kid, asshole, paint me as a villain“
Glover has routinely defended himself against critics who claim he came from a place of privilege when his career began. Gambino (and The Boy) revel in being typecast as a spoiled brat, almost as if his fulfillment of the stereotype excuses his behavior.
“Still spitting that cash flow, DJ Khaled“
A reference to Ace Hood’s 2008 song Cash Flow, which featured DJ Khaled, T-Pain, and Rick Ross. Recall that Rick Ross is cast in the role of The Boy’s father in the screenplay, further intertwining the narratives of Gambino and The Boy, following in his father’s, Rick Ross’s, footsteps.
“Yeah you got some silverware / But really are you eating though?“
These lines about eating are timed to coincide with the moment readers of the script get to a scene of The Boy and his crew at a diner, where they eat, and talk about animals eating other animals – extending the metaphor of “eating” as competition or survival. Gambino’s question seems to be: we are showing off silverware, as if we have what we need to eat, but are we really doing well?
“Breakfast lunch and dinner’s for beginners, you ain’t even know (U.O.E.N.O)”
A reference to Rocko’s 2013 hit song U.O.E.N.O, which features the previously mentioned A$AP Rocky and Rick Ross.
This acronynm-heavy lyricism began with the reference to A$AP Rocky in “french braid, now she A$AP” – and the continued practice of spelling it out emphasizes the references to other rappers throughout the track. Gambino discusses this notion of posturing, especially pertinent to rappers like Rick Ross and A$AP Rocky.
“My architect know Japanese”
An allusion to the eastern influence of The Boy’s mansion, including the prominent Buddha statue.
“I’m winning, yeah yeah, I’m winning“
An allusion to actor Charlie Sheen’s 2011 public meltdown, where Sheen appeared in multiple interviews making outrageous claims while in the throes of drug and alcohol rehab. Sheen’s most famous soundbites included descriptions of his debauchery, a claim that he had “tiger blood” and his use of “winning!” to describe his life.
being a goddamn rockstar
Gambino’s rapping on this track has been similar to Sheen’s boasts, talking about all of the money, luxury, goods, and sex he acquires as putting him above any of the naysayers. Self-aware or not, The Boy is experiencing his Sheen moment.
Charlie Sheen is the son of legendary actor Martin Sheen. The last name “Sheen” is actually a stage name. Martin Sheen’s real name is Ramón Estévez, and his invented stage name was inspired by a famous televangelist Fulton J. Sheen. Martin passed down the name to his son, Carlos Estévez, known to us as Charlie Sheen. Much like the wealthy, famous Sheen family, The Boy is the son of Rick Ross – a man who constructed an identity by taking the name of someone successful and using their new identity to acquire wealth in the entertainment industry.
Furthermore, Charlie Sheen’s fame was primarily based on his role on the sitcom Two and a Half Men. Gambino has just drawn a parallel between himself and Sheen, and on BTI, he plays and explores the roles of Donald Glover, Childish Gambino, and The Boy. Two. And a half. Men.
“Don’t be mad cause I’m doing me better than you doing you“
Rapper Problem offers the internet generation’s perfect Instagram caption. Problem’s presence is hype-man-esque, as he postures for Gambino, and “I’m doing me” is ironically voiced by this supporter, not the narrator of the song. Gambino and The Boy are examining and presenting themselves to the utmost.
Gambino then adds a couple of social media flexes, posting pictures of a stack of money and his clothing on his Instagram. See above, as Gambino and rapper Chief Keef compare stack pictures posted on social media.
“Ain’t nobody sicker, in my Fisker vroom-vroom ho“
A rare luxury electric auto manufacturer, the most visible instance of a Fisker in pop culture at this time would’ve been Ashton Kutcher’s character on Two and a Half Men driving one.
“Rich forever” here refers to Rick Ross’s instagram handle and a Ross mixtape of the same name.
“Top of the holy totem…My father owned half the MOMA / and did it with no diploma“
Considering Glover’s real father was a postal worker, this is a fictional reference, with two possibilities. First, in reference to The Boy’s father, it is a boast of wealth, saying that they owned half the artwork in the Museum of Modern Art, and didn’t need an education to do it. Second, it seems this line is referencing Jay Z’s line on the song “Who Gon Stop Me” from the Jay Z and Kanye West collab, Watch The Throne.
During interviews at this time, Gambino would often claim that he was the “son of Kanye”, adding another layer in his line about his rich father.
“I’m too fly, Jeff Goldblum“
This alludes to both the actor’s highly regarded sense of fashion as well as Goldblum’s starring role as the fly in the 1986 sci-fi film The Fly. Above, Jeff Goldblum reacting to hearing this lyric (twice).
“White hood, white hood, O-KKK“
The Boy’s outsider status is accentuated by the Palisades being a predominantly white neighborhood, which Gambino scandalously characterizes as a “white hood,” playing on symbolism tied to the white robes of the Ku Klux Klan, or KKK. In his use of “hood” lies an oscillation between comfort and danger. Early in his career, Gambino had a song called “My Hoodie,” and would tell interviewers he liked wearing one all the time because it was how he felt most comfortable.
Yet The Boy also feels out of place in The Palisades since he doesn’t fit in. Notably, the hoodie now has connotative danger due to the infamous murder of Trayvon Martin, who was shot dead as a result of alleged racial profiling. The killer attempted to justify his actions by saying Martin, who was wearing a hoodie, looked suspicious. This happened in 2012, and shortly after on the track “Eat Your Vegetables,” Childish Gambino addressed the hoodie symbolism that has become pervasive.
“I don’t give a fuck about my family name”
In the afterglow of the debauchery and “winning” of Sweatpants, Gambino breaks through all of the facade, shouting: “And I don’t give a fuck about my family name!” We then hear his fist slam a diner table, tethering together the song, screenplay, and music video, all of which feature this table slam in different but interconnected contexts.
In the screenplay, the crew now sits in a diner late at night, where Steve and Swank argue about vegetarianism. But this conversation strikes The Boy with a sense of deja vu. He can’t help but see the repetitive nature of their conversation and actions.
Like the screenplay, the video takes place at a diner at night. Gambino/The Boy walks in, sits down at a table with his crew for a while before getting up, walking outside, and texting someone on his phone. He walks back in the diner and repeats the cycle — he sits down with his crew, only this time everyone at the table is now him. He again walks outside, texts, and then walks back in the same way once again. In this third and final loop, everyone in the diner has his face.
The music video is also incredibly similar to the diner scene (left) in Being John Malkovich which, perhaps not coincidentally, stars Charlie Sheen (right).
The music video thus has fascinating implications with identity and the continuous struggle for self-improvement, or, in the social media age, of showing off in grander and grander ways in an attempt to construct some incredible version of ourselves.
This loop structure of the video also aligns with the cyclical, repetitive nature of Gambino’s boasts in the song’s verses. This is reflected in the song’s lyrics, from emulating Charlie Sheen to then referencing his replacement, Ashton Kutcher. From telling the audience “you ain’t even know” to then pulling the hood back and explaining “just so you know.” Nearly every aspect of the first verse gets one-upped in the second, as Gambino retraces his steps and pushes for victory over himself.
At the end of the third loop in the music video, everyone in the diner now has Gambino’s face, and he slams his fist on the table. This is triggered in the screenplay by a kid in a fake 90’s hat writing “roscoe’s wetsuit” on the wall. The Boy gets up and goes to ask the Hat Kid what “roscoe’s wetsuit” means. Hat Kid repeatedly says he doesn’t know, that he just saw it on the internet. This visibly frustrates The Boy. Fam comes and brings him back to the table. As they sit down, Hat Kid shouts, “it means I sat on your mom’s face.” When the Boy slams his fists on the table, the entire diner is silenced in shock. Without looking up, he says “Tell me what it is or I’ll cut you open and take the answer.”
This is the moment. The slam on the table, the moment when the repetitive selfishness of stunting and castigating others breaks The Boy. Gambino and The Boy have had enough.
You may turn into a version of you might not like. This is precisely what The Boy is coming to understand about himself, stuck in a loop of narcissistic actions and pursuits, unable to escape who he’s become. His initial attempt to break the cycle — driving to Oakland to rekindle a connection — failed him, so he’s fallen back to what he knows. Who he is. Stuck in the loop.
“But none of it matters cause we’re doing it for ourselves!“
We can’t just live for ourselves because what we do, how we interact, how we present ourselves has an impact on the outside world. We have to care about what other people think and feel, because if it was just us, we’d be pointless. We’d be stuck in a narcissistic loop. We are all a part of something larger than ourselves. And so we have to see ourselves in others, like The Boy in the diner, all connected, all moving to some invisible rhythm in the orchestra of human existence.
Performance Art and Release Dates
The initial release for “Sweatpants” appeared to be a leak on November 24, 2013, and Glover took to twitter with a stream of irate comments, blasting people’s “lust for money and impatience” for getting in the way of his plans. Remember, though, that Glover has been engaged in a wide-spanning act of performance art through the rollout of BTI, and that we can’t take his anger at face value.
The day of the music video’s premiere, which was April 14, 2014, serves as a second release date. The music video was rolled out along with the Deep Web Blog, a collection of content including prose, poetry, code, images, and video related to Gambino’s tour. This time, in an escalation of his anger when the song was first leaked, he specifically called out his label for mishandling the release of his work, and asked other, larger music labels to buy him out of his contract.
April 14, 2014 4/14/14 41414
Even the release date may have been intentional. April 14, 2014 – 4/14/14 – 41414. A palindrome, a repeating, looping sequence of numbers, reflective of the structure of both the lyrics and video.
Some of Gambino’s frustration may be from the mysterious alternate music video for “Sweatpants.” A behind-the-scenes clip for this alternate shoot appeared and then was removed from YouTube.
The music video that would have come from this footage was never released. It’s eerily similar to the one we do have, and our mind can only reel with the possibilities for what could have been. Regardless, all of the hubbub surrounding the various release dates isn’t a coincidence. Glover’s repetitive frustration, online presentation, and one-upmanship of self-expression is reflected in the verse structure of Sweatpants. While we can appreciate this as a neat piece of contextual performance art, it also reinforces that we must try to take the entirety of these moments in the BTI world into account when dissecting the work.
“MetA” (from the Greek μετά-, meta-, meaning “after” or “beyond”): a prefix meaning more comprehensive or transcending.
“Telegraph Ave.” features a meta “song-within-a-song” structure and scores The Boy driving to Oakland. As “Oakland” by LLoyd transcends the car radio into the screenplay, we watch The Boy, now in the driver’s seat, symbolically taking agency over his life.
Singer-songwriter Lloyd’s most well known feature on Young Money’s 2009 track Bedrock. Lloyd’s appearance on “Telegraph Ave” is not a traditional feature, as the fictional song “Oakland” forms the basis of the track.
Glover and Lloyd both attended the same high school, the DeKalb School of the Arts. We have to acknowledge the real-life bond between the two, since Glover has intertwined reality and fiction throughout BTI. In this case, Lloyd becomes the voice of emotion The Boy is incapable of communicating himself.
As The Boy is listening in his car, we hear Gambino sing along with a few words and a phone chimes with a text notification – mirroring The Boy’s actions in the script. He’s texted an ex-girlfriend, Nyla, that he’s coming to see her in Oakland, to which she replies, “DONT” in all caps.
A real billboard during the BTI era that only says “ROSCOE’S WETSUIT.” The Boy speeds past this billboard on the highway on his way to Oakland.
Besides the parallels in the lyrics that are undeniable, the thing that seems to separate the pair is Oakland – both in terms of physical distance, and Lloyd’s description of the woman, that “everything [she does] is so Oakland.”
The relationship in this song is based on one of Glover’s real-life relationships, where he would drive between Oakland and LA to see a girl.
“Foot on the gas…I’m ready to go.”
As the hook communicates a fast, no-stop attitude or commitment to love, this phrasing is actually a reference to Gambino’s 2011 hit “Heartbeat,” a song detailing sex and infidelity under the veil of oscillating swagger and anxiety. Given that “Heartbeat” appears on Camp, the precursor to Because the Internet’s narrative, we see a clear parallel, where Gambino appears to be repeating a mistake of the past.
The Boy and his crew stop for lunch at In-N-Out Burger. As The Boy eats, he laughs thinking about the cows at the slaughterhouse they passed on the highway. Two guys pull guns out and go inside to rob the place. As people run out and get in their cars, the crew just watches, making fun of the robbers for not using codenames.
As they watch the robbery in progress, the crew mimics a news broadcast, narrating the scene in front of them in realtime. Part of the fictional broadcast includes the crew saying the suspect “managed to get guns and shoot themselves in the head.” This is likely a reference to Chavis Carter, a 21-year old Black man in Arkansas who died on July 29, 2012.
The official investigation and report ruled that Carter had a gun that officers did not find after 2 searches, and while handcuffed in the back of their police vehicle, shot himself in the head. Protests and online movements called into question the suspicious report by the police.
“And if I [buried/married] you tonight it would probably start a riot in Oakland.”
MARRIED / Buried
At first, these lines seem to reflect a growing sense of concern for the possibility of a committed relationship, of marriage, so much so that Gambino’s worries rise to the level of a riot. But Gambino seems to purposely suggest both “married you tonight” and/or “buried you tonight.” Given the morbid undercurrent of the verse so far, we could see this as the conclusion of Gambino’s thinking that marriage, or lifelong commitment to a single partner, is akin to death.
“Telegraph Ave.” was released via a tweet from actor Michael b. Jordan.
At the time, Jordan was promoting the based-on-real-events film Fruitvale Station, where he starred as Oscar Grant, an African-American man who was killed by police officers while taking the BART train in Oakland on New Year’s Eve.
Fruitvale Station was scored by BTI producer Ludwig Göransson, and directed by Ryan Coogler, Glover’s friend and collaborator. Here’s Coogler and Jordan talking about the release of Telegraph Ave.
With Jordan, Glover has once again combined real and fictional elements to imbue this love song with reminders of racial tension and police brutality. While fans were clamoring for the leaked track, they would go download it from an actor playing Oscar Grant, a reminder of what happened to him, a reminder of systemic shortcomings in America. Audiences couldn’t just eat the cake, they had to eat their vegetables, too.
In the video, a warped-utopian worldview depicts Gambino and singer Jhene Aiko roaming the island of Kauai before locals attack Gambino, trying to warn Aiko to run away. Quoting writer Trey Smith, “[The locals] run out and try to get Jhene to come with them, believing that they’re protecting her. As they attempt to lead her away, Gambino arises in a new, monstrous form, lashing back at his attackers after becoming the very thing they were afraid he’d become.“
Smith continued: “This new form represents how he will be presented to the rest of the world as a consequence of his reaction to their transgressions against him. They are dead, Jhene is terrified, and Donald has to once again deal with outside forces making him something he’s not. We know that our hero isn’t this great beast the locals assumed he was, but that doesn’t matter now.”
When taken as a whole, we begin to realize how Gambino has packaged whispers of danger and racial tension into Telegraph Ave. and BTI more generally. It’s the sonic equivalent of what the Professor David A. Harris termed “driving while black” – the idea that, as a black person in America, there are certain added threats and stresses that are ever-present, invisible until they are not.
“And you wanna be a mom and I wasn’t mad at it / I was thinking ’bout me, I’d be really bad at it. / Cuz I’m thinking ’bout me.”
The “Shorty George” Dance
In live performances during Telegraph Ave’s instrumental bridge, Gambino would often do a dance move called the “Shorty George” — named after a famous Harlem dancer from the 1920s and 30s, “Shorty” George Snowden. Snowden was known for using his small stature for comedic effect while dancing with taller partners.
The move is often associated with self-parody, as a dancer diminishes or pokes fun at themself in contrast with their partner. It’s a perfect reflection of the lyrical content of this last verse.
Love is the greatest gift humans have.
During live performances of “Telegraph Ave.” on the Deep Web Tour, the song was prefaced by a passage of advice from The Boy’s deceased mother. Here, The Boy’s Mother tells him, “Love is the greatest gift humans have. Being loved in return, is a luxury, and if it doesn’t happen don’t close yourself off that’s all that I ask. Your father, he’s got his own thing. But you don’t have to be that. You’re not him… Love is the greatest gift humans have.”
There’s nostalgia in sending telegraphs, in romanticizing the past. But the reality is, that time is over, and your memory now is in many ways a facade. It’s impossible to recreate things just as they were, and growing up demands us to move forward, whether we want to or not.
Music Video Analysis
In the music video, Gambino is accompanied by Jhene Aiko, who will appear later as Naomi in the script, and they’re vacationing in Kauai before Gambino gets attacked by locals and he’s revealed to be a deadly alien. The music videos appear to string narrative points that offer parallels and comparisons between different sections of the central, scripted BTI narrative. There are plenty of theories out on the web on the music videos as an extended narrative metaphor for being a black man in America.
Telegraph Ave. depicts scenes in Kauai – as in, the setting for most of the follow-up mixtape, Kauai. Thus, it provides yet another link in the warped, manipulated timeline that ties together the musical works. The dissonance between the script and the music video is highlighted by the different locales. While the script describes an industrial drive by a slaughterhouse, the video’s drive is incredibly lush.
Gambino’s monster attack in Telegraph Ave appears to be the culmination of the alien subplot within the music videos, which began in “The Worst Guys” when we see a parasite attached to Glover’s leg.
The videos both spend significant time at the beach, with Gambino swimming in the ocean. In “Telegraph Ave,” there’s a mysterious creature swimming with him. The shots above are clear parallels, although we never see any clear action or indication of their relationship.
Quite honestly – the music video subplot is a mystery. Between the parasite bite and the monster’s murder, there’s a world to explore. Regardless of the specifics, the music videos offer a fascinating exploration of outsider identity – the alien potentially representing a vessel for Glover’s feelings of being excluded.
As Act Two begins, The Boy examines the sleep-walking existence he’s been living. This process is slow, and fittingly, Act Two begins with the instrumental track “Dial Up.”
The most popular means of accessing the internet in the 1990’s required you to connect through your phone line. Click above to experience the ubiquitous sound.
In the screenplay, “Dial Up” is preceded with a small scene, and it’s noted that this scene should be soundtracked by Nosetalgia by Pusha T. The Boy and his crew walk into their mansion in slow motion. After this brief scene, we’re instructed to play “Dial Up.” The Boy lays in bed staring at the ceiling. The script then reads:
I. The Worst Guys
The song’s hook is performed by Gambino and Chance the Rapper who, noted in the screenplay, is supposed to play The Boy’s friend Marcus.
Marcus is The Boy’s most sex-crazed friend who grabs condoms before the party (upper left), flirts with Sasha at the beach first (upper right), and is hyper-competitive in Clapping For the Wrong Reasons (bottom). Chance’s presence, or character, on this hook thus depicts a man who views sex as competition, as a means of stunting.
The incomplete phrase “all she needed was some” is repeated sixteen times. As producer Ludwig Göransson explained, Chance’s phrase had a sort of “you can’t say that” quality that made it appealing. Fittingly, on page 69 of childishgambino.com at the time of the album’s release, this hook was presented as a multiple choice question:
While there’s a bit of humor in some of the options, it appears that in The Boy and Marcus’s eyes, C is the intended answer, that the girl needs some dick. The hook is then an immature bit of braggadocio, with the idea that all a woman needs is sex.
The lack of payoff in the phrase is similar to the lack of an actual rap verse from Chance on this track. Chance and Glover would play-fight about this on social media at the time. The unsatisfactory nature reflects The Boy and the worst guys’ meaningless patterns of behavior.
The hook’s sexual innuendo sets the tone for a bevy of arrogant phallic imagery, as Gambino details the self-indulgent exploits of him and his crew.
“Go Home, Roger.”
When Gambino competitively jabs, “why these bitches see you, go home Roger,” a girl saying “go home Roger!” in the style of twin sisters Tia and Tamera Mowry from the 90’s sitcom Sister, Sister follows.
“Roger” refers to the character Roger Evans, who insistently pursued the twins throughout the show, so much so that “go home Roger!” was a catchphrase used by both the twins and their parents.
Gambino continues the reference, rapping: “Tia and Tamera in my bed, I’m a smart guy.” Smart Guy was another 90’s sitcom centered around the character TJ Henderson, who is played by Tahj Mowry, the real-life younger brother of Tia and Tamera. Tahj actually appeared in a few episodes of Sister, Sister, and Tia and Tamera appeared on an episode of Smart Guy.
In this episode, TJ’s brother Marcus tries to hit on the girls played by Tia and Tamara, but they both end up leaving with TJ. By positioning himself as the “smart guy,” Gambino likens himself to TJ, using Tia and Tamera to imply he’s about to have a threesome. This is relevant because Gambino will rap about a failed threesome later in the track, and The Boy will be involved in a failed threesome in the screenplay. We also recognize that Marcus is both TJ’s older brother on Smart Guy, and the name of The Boy’s horniest friend that’s played by Chance the Rapper, who of course appears on the current track.
“The girls that you brought man, where are they from?”
This song, sondtracking a party at The Boy’s house, illustrates his fixation with sex. He then raps “we were playing PlayStation,” a reference to the prelude film to BTI, Clapping for the Wrong Reasons. There we see Gambino or The Boy ask his brother Steve and Swank about a mysterious girl, played by Abella Anderson, that he assumes they brought to the house. Steve and Swank are distracted by playing NBA 2K on PlayStation and they don’t know who she is.
Glover continues to wonder until he sees her that night and asks her directly, but she doesn’t reply. This ties into the next lines of the song, as Gambino raps: “why you standing there? Say some, / Girl, say some, no this ain’t a vacation, / this is my house, all she needed was some.” The implication of “this ain’t a vacation, this is my house,” is that the girl can’t just be here for nothing, for free, that she has to do some ‘work,’ the sexual overtones of the song further implying that he thinks “all she needed was some” dick.
“I ball, Ima ball, King James”
King James the first (left), who is believed to have had multiple male lovers during his reign, such as George Villiers (right), who James made the Earl of Buckingham. Given Glover’s repeated use of “balls” in the King James line, as well as the insinuations of him talking about taking shots and his new bath, there’s clearly an element of homoeroticism consistent with Glover’s continued questioning of sexuality labels throughout BTI.
“Uncle Ben in my hand, make change”
In 2010, there was an online movement using the hashtag #Donald4Spiderman that called to cast Donald Glover as the next Spiderman, so it’s highly probable this Uncle Ben line is in part a reference to that.
When Uncle Ben dies, he’s in Peter Parker’s arms, and he tells Peter “with great power comes great responsibility.” Parker then makes a change by leaving his normal life to assume the role of superhero. In this sense, “Uncle Ben in my hand, make change” is Gambino saying that he is realizing the need for change, for something more worthwhile.
“All she needed was some…”
Essential to Because the Internet, this idea of subjectivity and one’s own agency and freedom to ascribe personal meaning in their life. The repetition of the phrase “all she needed was some” combined with the inherent vagueness of the phrase itself renders it completely ambiguous. Recall that Gambino deliberately posed the phrase as a multiple choice question on his website. We get a sense that all the choices are both correct or incorrect — that perhaps “all of the above” and/or “none of the above” might actually be the best answer. We have the power to choose differently, and perceive our own meaning.
Additional evidence of interpreting this guitar solo as masturabatory comes when we consider Glover’s performance of this song live, as he would often pantomime jerking himself off to intro this solo section.
Also, note the phallic light wands in the music video during this solo.
Sasha, the girl who the crew met at the beach scene during “Crawl,” opens the door and pulls him inside. Sasha then tells The Boy to show them his dick, which leads to a bit of an awkward exchange. The Boy asks, “Why?” She starts kissing and touching him, but then stops when he doesn’t get erect. She asks, “What’s wrong?” but receives no clear answer from The Boy, who then tells the girls to hold on and he goes to the bathroom and locks the door.
We also might think of the shadowy, silhouetted threesome that introduced the live performance of this song on the Deep Web Tour (above). When he has the chance to engage in a threesome, he can’t get erect, because he doesn’t see the point. When he asks Sasha “Why?” the question has existential implications. This event mirrors the failed menage Gambino rapped about in the second verse. The dissonance between the lyric about getting an “Uber from her place” and the party taking place at The Boy’s mansion seems to suggest a bit of overlap between events in the lives of The Boy and Gambino.
It seems Glover is using vulnerability and honesty as a means of connection with his audience, as discussed in the interview above. For Gambino, and for The Boy, recognizing what’s happening – this moment of sexual impotence – and being honest about it, is a chance to evolve and move forward. This is a moment of realization, where The Boy knows that he can’t maintain the hedonistic patterns that have put him where he is.
Producer and bassist Thundercat discusses Shadows.
The intro features a drum kit put in reverse (sampled from Manzel’s Space Funk), signaling a backward shift in time – reflective of The Boy’s upcoming memories and recollections.
This scores the scene of The Boy in the bathroom escaping the failed threesome. He sits on the floor with his head in his hands and, inexplicably, his ex-girlfriend Vanessa steps out of the linen closet and tells him she wants to go out.
“I hope you understand / That I get you”
He cries out for connection here – hoping he can reach those he’s lost and let them know that he gets it now, that he understands. Amidst the maelstrom of instrumentation and emotion, there’s hope here for real reconciliation. The overpowering elements of the emotion may be most evident in live performances of the song, in which Gambino reaches his voice higher and higher (see live performance above).
At this point, Gambino, and The Boy, are being torn apart by a realization of the “phoniness” of it all – of Vanessa, of the festival, of their patterns of hedonistic behavior. To The Boy, this is a waste of time, and he’s allowed it to tear him apart. Following this scene, the script then cuts to The Boy pacing in his shower. He realizes the water is cold and it’s 5 in the morning.
With his 2013 album Because the Internet, Donald Glover sought to construct a transmedia world by weaving together physical, sonic, visual, and online material Under his pseudonym Childish Gambino. For the most comprehensive compilation of the world’s components, visit S7 co-writer Camden Ostrander’s piktochart.
The album’s opening track titled “The Library” marks the first act, and propels us into the world of Because The Internet.
According to Glover, “The Library” provides the effect of logging on and connection.
The Library also refers to the origin point of the album, as BTI was recorded in the library room of the mansion they dubbed “The Temple.” (see below)
“Who is this?”
Rick Ross is cast as The Boy’s father in the screenplay. A correctional officer before embarking on a music career, Ross achieved musical success by painting a picture of lavish living, even though it wasn’t his real life, exemplified in his video Hustin’ (left) and the subject matter of his feature on Kanye West’s Devil in a New Dress (right).
Author Kurt Vonnegut warns of such pretenses above in his novel Mother Night. In casting Ross, Glover emphasizes the idea that we all construct characters for ourselves, especially in the age of the internet. What we then have to figure out, is whether we are those characters we build up, or if we even have a true identity.
An image of The Boy’s bookshelf, featuring three Vonnegut novels and his memoir, A Man without a Country. Vonnegut’s literary material was known for its irony, dark humor and exploring the absurd in relation to existential dilemma — all things Glover himself will utilize and explore in BTI.
Nigerian twins Christian Rich who produced the track Crawl.
The chaotic, unsettling nature of the Crawl’s production is accentuated by vocals from the rapper Mystikal, best known for his 2000 Neptune-produced hit, “Shake Ya Ass” (left). The majority of Mystikal’s ad-libs on “Crawl” can be traced back to a live performance by Rick James of his song “Mary Jane” (right). We might speculate that the Rick James samples were used first in the song’s production, and Mystikal was brought in later and re-recorded them, plus added his own original ad-libs.
“Where we were, kinda thing, betcha crawl, all alone.” The first of Glover’s handwritten notes, which suggests Donald Glover (as opposed to The Boy or Childish Gambino) in an existential crisis of self-exploration, an infancy of a new self in a sense, emblematic of Crawl’s refrain.
“Y’all B-String like a broke guitar“
Gambino criticizes other rappers as “B-string” backup players on a team, as well as the B-string on a guitar. The highest string on the guitar is the E-string and is the one most likely to break, exposing the second-highest string, the B-string.
“Yeah I murder some, murder one / explain it all, Ferguson.” This line rather refers to Ferguson Darling, the annoying younger brother in Nickelodeon’s 90s hit show Clarissa Explains It All.
“Cut a white girl with the same black gloves on”
1. The term “white girl” in drug vernacular means cocaine, and the process of cutting, or mixing and preparing the drug, requires handlers to wear gloves. Thus, Glover makes a clear connection between the previous musical touchstones and the distribution of drugs, a metaphoric bond that he will continue to employ throughout the album.
2. Also potentially alluding to the trial of O.J. Simpson in the murder of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson in 1995, at the time was the most talked about scandal in the nation. The key piece of evidence was a black glove found at the scene of the crime. Considering that Nicole Brown Simpson, a white woman, was stabbed to death by someone wearing the black glove, this line seems to clearly contain a reading centered on racial tension and 90’s nostalgia.
3. A third plausible interpretation: a magician’s iconic trick of cutting their assistant in half. This illusion commonly involves a woman assistant, wearing black gloves, lying in a box, and apparently being cut in half by the magician.
What’s the rationale?
An existential question that will reverberate throughout Because the Internet: Why? Why be alive?
Glover keyed audiences in on the existential quality of this world before it was released, repeatedly mentioning reading Soren Kierkegaard in interviews. He 0penly carried the book Dostoevsky, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche & Kafka, by William Hubben, which surveyed the life and ideas of these pioneers in existentialist thought. Like the question “who am I?” posed at the beginning of the track, he asks “what’s the rationale?” openly, making clear that this album and world seeks to address it.
“I scorch winters, I burn autumns / gut [n-words], so Kurt Vonne.”
The line name-checks famous American author Kurt Vonnegut, cleverly crafting an image of violence. The influence of Vonnegut’s work is essential to the transmedia world of BTI Glover created. For instance, many of Vonnegut’s novels appear on the bookshelves of “The Boy’s Room,” as mentioned earlier. Also, given the violence surrounding this line, the way Vonnegut’s last name is cut off reflects dismemberment. Gambino literally ripped the “guts” out of Vonnegut.
“Ain’t nobody got time for that”
A reference to a viral 2012 news report of a woman named Sweet Brown detailing her experience of an apartment fire. Sweet Brown became a viral sensation inspiring countless internet memes, adding to Glover’s collection of internet-references.
Sweet Brown’s entire life was changed as a result of becoming an internet meme. While this presented a few economic opportunities (like acting in a Tyler Perry movie), it also meant that everywhere she went, or every new opportunity she got, she was connected to a moment frozen in time by the internet.
Left, her presence in a local dental ad revolved around her infamous soundbite; right, when her original news clip was remixed into a song, she didn’t receive any of the proceeds, and was not consulted or asked before it was released.
“You think I could be a superstar?”
Watch this early news report when the clip started to gain internet steam, and see how Sweet Brown reacts.
While becoming fodder for the internet content machine can freeze you in time or tear you apart, there is the scintillating, unavoidable allure – you could be a superstar.
But what are the implications of this situation? When we consume people as content – what do we do to them? And what do we do to each other? How does this affect the way we see each other?
It’s these questions and more that concern us as we keep learning how to use the internet – because while it offers new heights, if we’re not careful, we’ll fall into new lows.
After The Boy came home from summer Camp, the script flashes-forward 15 years. The Boy is somewhere in his late 20s, still living in his father’s huge mansion. This clip from the screenplay shows The Boy’s desk, including a flash-drive labeled “hackz.”
The “hackz” flashdrive was duplicated and given out to lucky fans who purchased the record on release day from certain stores. You can download the contents of the flashdrive here.
Included in the drive: The BTI Movie Poster, the script, “what kind of love” (a rough track that was seemingly intended for BTI) and a full recording of his performance at Life is Beautiful Fest on October 26th, 2013.
Inside The Boy’s mansion. Left, the Buddha statue; right, the spiral staircase.
The Boy’s Twitter: “You Are Unimportant – @thegoldmolar” Glover made a real Twitter page for The Boy (above).