Ep. 9 – Death by Numbers / Flight of the Navigator

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.


Animation Analysis

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.

These graphics represent both the interconnectedness of all things, as well as a more complex, nuanced perspective on truth and perception – of the very building blocks of our reality.

PATTERNS

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.

“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.”

– Glover preceding The Deep Web Tour

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.


Screenplay Analysis

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?”

She left.

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.

“We have to fight for what we want to keep…We have to choose what’s going forward…what’s worth saving. I chose you.”

The Boy’s Mother

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.

Ep. 8 – The Party / No Exit

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.”

“It was the closest you could get to having powers.”

BTI Screenplay, Act 3

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.


don’t slide.

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.

“…but [clothes] are not necessary. like a lot of things. like art. like us. that’s kinda what makes it special…we use clothes to make a statement about ourselves. that’s what they’re for. and my clothes, right now, are me.”

Glover on his clothes

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?”


“The Party”

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.


GTFO

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.

Roscoe’s Wetsuit

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.


No Exit

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.

“The Boy is not surprised. It’s not making more sense, but it’s becoming more dependable, which is always nice.”

– BTI Screnplay, Act 3

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 intelligent tactical response to life’s horror is to laugh defiantly at it.

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.

#Donald4Spiderman

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.


NO EXIT

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.

“I tried to kill myself. I was really fucked up after that, because I had this girl that I thought I was going to marry and we broke up. I didn’t feel like I knew what I was doing.”

– Glover on his suicide attempt

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.

Move on.

Grow up.

Ep. 7 – 3005

In our first ever video analysis, we break down the 3005 music video (above).


BTI Screenplay

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 Production

3005

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.


3005 Lyrics

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.

“Making your life a goal is dumb. I think. This shit is supposed to be just fun.”

Fam in the BTI script

“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.

“We’re all alone in the end. So it’s good. That’s the way it has to be…but that’s ok. you’re alone in the beginning too.”

Donald Glover

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.”

Ep. 4 – Dial-Up / I. The Worst Guys / II. Shadows

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:

“Spiders slowly drop from single strands of web from all the posts on the bed. It looks pretty. All of them dropping simultaneously swaying together.”

Act II BTI Screenplay

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.

“allsheneededwassome…allsheneededwassome…allsheneededwassome…allsheneededwassome…allsheneededwassome…allsheneededwassome…allsheneededwassome…allsheneededwassome…allsheneededwassome…allsheneededwassome…allsheneededwassome…allsheneededwassome…allsheneededwassome…allsheneededwassome…allsheneededwassome…allsheneededwassome…”

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”

#Donald4Spiderman

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.

“Donald was like: just take it over the top times a hunna.”

Göransson on “The Worst Guys” guitar solo

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.


Screenplay Analysis

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.

II. Shadows

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.

“I wanted to make something that says, no matter how bad you fuck up, or mistakes you’ve made during the year, your life, your eternity. You’re always allowed to be better. You’re always allowed to grow up. If you want.”

Ep. 2 – The Library/Crawl

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.

“No, you gotta build a bigger world, I’m not gonna make an album…”


The Library

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).

“…[it] only makes sense if you suspend belief in everything else except for what he tells you and shows you.”

Author Shea Serrano on Ross’s excesses in The Rap Yearbook

“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”

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.


“I. CRAWL”

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.

“At this point with the internet, it feels like we’re just giving a handgun to an infant and going, ‘Don’t shoot yourself.’”

Glover on the “infancy” stage of the internet, perhaps one reason for the title “Crawl”

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.


Screenplay Analysis

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).

Season 7: Because The Internet

Dissect Season 7 on Because The Internet by Childish Gambino begins NOW, only on Spotify.

Go deeper into the BTI world with our visual guides and the Because The Internet screenplay. For the most immersive experience, view both the visual guides and the screenplay excerpts before or after an episode.

Season 7 will be exclusive to Spotify until January 2021. Podcasts are FREE on Spotify – don’t need a premium account to listen.

S7E1 – The Transmedia World of Because The Internet

“I wanted to make something that says, no matter how bad you fuck up, or mistakes you’ve made during the year, your life, your eternity. You’re always allowed to be better. You’re always allowed to grow up. If you want.”

Donald Glover’s open letter, posted to Instagram, describing his 2013 album, Because the Internet, released under his pseudonym “Childish Gambino”

Donald McKinley Glover Jr.

Born on September 25, 1983 at Edwards Air Force Base in California, Donald grew up with his siblings Bree and Stephen, as well as a steady flow of foster children. His mother Beverly ran a daycare from their home in Stone Mountain, Georgia, and his father, Donald Sr, was in the Air Force and later was a postal worker.

Pictured left to right: Bree, Donald Sr., Beverly, Stephen, and Donald.

mc DJ

Under the pseudonym “mc DJ,” chitown, Glover’s remix of Sufjan Stevens’ Chicago.

Click the image above for the full McDJ catalog.


Derrick Comedy and Beginnings

At NYU, Glover was a part of Derrick Comedy, one of the first sketch comedy groups to create a presence on the then-nascent website YouTube. Left, a sketch titled “Bro Rape: a Newsline Investigative Report;” right, Derrick highlights from an improv show in October of 2012.

Left, Derrick Comedy presents Mystery Team, written by and starring Donald Glover; right, the film’s red band trailer.

After winning an Emmy as a writer on 30 Rock, Glover pursued formal stand-up comedy. Left, a clip from Glover’s 2011 Comedy Central special, Weirdo; right, a clip from Just for Laughs.

Glover’s work on 30 Rock and in standup landed him the role of Troy Barnes on NBC’s Community.


Mixtapes and EP

Top left to bottom right, Childish Gambino’s mixtapes Sick Boi, Poindexter, I Am Just a Rapper, I Am Just a Rapper 2, and Culdesac, which reached 5 figure downloads on datpiff.com in its first week.

Glover created his rap alias using a Wu-Tang Name Generator, which still exists today.

Gambino followed up Culdesac with the 5-track EP, containing his first notable single – “Freaks and Geeks.”

2011-12, Camp and Royalty

Gambino’s first studio album, Camp, released November 15, 2011, conceptually explores the notion of a Black boy at summer camp, trying to find himself amongst new peers. These same emotions also applied to Glover’s place in the hip-hop community at the time. 

Glover on The Breakfast Club further discussing fitting in amongst new peers.

Glover continued his busy work schedule throughout 2012. When he broke his foot performing, he used his few weeks of rest to work on a mixtape, before performing at the 2012 Coachella Festival. Left, notice his foot in a protective boot; right, his freestyle performance alongside Kendrick Lamar and Danny Brown.

His mixtape, ROYALTY was released on July 4th, 2012, and included collaborations with a variety of artists, such as Schoolboy Q, HAIM, Bun B, and Beck.

ROYALTY was also accompanied by a series of portraits by artist Sam Spratt, titled American Royalty. Each single released featured a different portraint attached.


HIATUS

“After I came off tour, we went to Australia and I was just super depressed. I mean, I tried to kill myself. I was really fucked up after that, because I had this girl that I thought I was going to marry and we broke up. I didn’t feel like I knew what I was doing. I wasn’t living up to my standard, I was living up to other people’s standards, and I just said ‘I don’t see the point.’”

Donald Glover in Noisey by Vice

Glover discusses his decision to leave Community in 2013.

Renting out a mansion in the Pacific Palisades neighborhood of Los Angeles, Gambino invited a team of friends and collaborators, which goes by the name “Royalty,” to live and work with him. In 2013, this team consisted of Fam Udeorji, Jamal “Swank” Olori, Chad Taylor, Ibra Ake, and his brother Stephen Glover. Producers Ludwig Göransson and Stefan Ponce would also live in the mansion, while artists like Chance the Rapper, Flying Lotus, and Trinidad James would stop by.

Left, Glover discusses the working arrangement at “The Temple;” right, Gambino discusses Because the Internet, not simply as an album, but a product of Glover’s belief that in the modern age, “you gotta build a bigger world.”

“I don’t want to make albums anymore anyway…I feel like it’s just kinda silly, to make just albums. You gotta make worlds and lives.”

Donald Glover on TimWestwoodTV

Because the Internet – A “Bigger World”

As an album, Because the Internet consists of 19 songs, separated into 5 acts. Songs within each act are assigned a scene number, in line with Glover’s training in dramatic writing. 
These songs are intended to interact and score an accompanying screenplay, also titled Because the Internet.

Because the Internet‘s prelude, Clapping for the Wrong Reasons (Internet Version), a surreal short film, directed by Hiro Murai, only 50 seconds long.

“I’ve been having the strangest recurring dreams for the last week.”

Seemingly capturing the feeling of life and work in “The Temple,” The Internet Version emphasizes key thematic concepts and wraps them up with powerful visual imagery in a bite-size, made-for-social-media package.

“Like I said, sometimes you just can’t explain things.”

The sounds of a phone ringing and a basketball dribbling up the infinity staircase resound throughout the clip.

“Patterns.”

These symbols hold key positioning throughout BTI as Glover explores identity, technology, connection, patterns, and reality.

Clapping for the Wrong Reasons (Director’s Cut), a 24-minute version released two weeks after the “Internet Version,” originally as a continuously playing loop online. The importance of the images, dialogue, and symbolism will reveal itself over the course of the season.

Because the Internet movie poster by artist Sam Spratt.

Gambino also orchestrated a string of performances to create experiential dimensions of the Because the Internet world. Included in these performances was a set of shows that took place in mansions set up to look like The Boy’s house. Click the image above for the invitation from foreverchildish.com

The Boy’s Room was created by Glover in collaboration with Brian Roettinger and Tumblr IRL. Inviting audiences to come through the installation at Rough Trade in NYC and look around The Boy’s bedroom from the screenplay, Gambino also gave an intimate performance and meet-and-greet event with fans. The installation took cues from Tracey Emin’s My Bed and offered an intimate, real experience adding another element to Glover’s fusion of reality and digital spaces. 

Glover extended this performance art to live shows on his tour, which included dynamic, interactive graphic backdrops and the integrated use of an app. Audiences downloaded the Deep Web Tour App, using it to interact with the stage during the show.

Aside from the Deep Web Tour, Gambino hosted a series of intimate performances in mansions across North America. He performed shows in the living rooms after confiscating the audience’s phones. Fans received movie posters for Because the Internet and could purchase limited merchandise along with the unique performance.

In all public appearances during the rollout, Donald Glover wore the same outfit as The Boy in the screenplay. Glover’s commitment to his costume led to speculation that his public existence at the time was really an extended piece of performance art – which Glover all but confirmed by retweeting an article discussing the theory.


Listening Parties

During the rollout for the album, Gambino stopped doing traditional media interviews and began hosting public appearances to connect with fans in parks across North America. He explained: “I want these listening parties to happen in the real world. To have people there so they can feel… rather than getting it curated through a Tumblr.”

Glover explained that these meetings were a way to augment or change the traditional rollout interview process, where different magazines and newspapers spend a bit of time with an artist, and they end up answering many of the same questions over and over again.

“I’m probably not going to do set interviews anymore. It’s an old format. Not just interviews but even forced conversation – come to the hotel room, 20 minutes each. That feels like taking a piece of paper and punching the holes in it and sticking it into the computer.”

When the journalist speaking to him asked if that meant circumventing and avoiding reporting altogether, Glover clarified.

“I want to bring you. I don’t want to circumvent. People get so afraid when they hear that stuff like, ‘So, you want my job to go?’ No, I want you to better yourself and do this other things that’s better. I just want to make things easier so we can all eat more. I feel like when people hear progress they think ‘Oh, I’m going to lose my job.’ Well, only if you want to stay old.”

Glover also viewed the gatherings as a way to be more honest and open about life experience than what often gets projected online. “I just allow myself to be human and aware and see things as they really are. I feel like there’s a lot of stuff we pack on ourselves to make ourselves seem less human. We walk down the street like, ‘I don’t shit, I’m a robot.’ We do that but we don’t have to anymore.”

“I’ve seen the worst parts of humanity and good parts. But only extremes. We’re using it as entertainment instead of having our lives be the internet. That’s where we’re going. That’s what the listening parties are about. It’s not, ‘Hey guys, listen to my tracks on Spotify and maybe I’ll do a [Reddit] AMA.’ Like, no, that’s not real. How about I’m going to tell everybody I know that I’m going to be at this point and we’ll all meet up and talk, get new ideas. Maybe somebody there knows something about this thing, and I’m like, ‘Oh, that’s a good idea.’ Then I come back and tell people, ‘Guess what I just found out about? This shit is hot.’ Let’s make better shit and be more connected because right now I feel very lost and empty. I feel like that’s everybody. I feel like there’s this feeling of ‘why-ness’ because we have so many tools.”


Yaphet Kotto

Glover officially announced Because The Internet’s forthcoming release with a single entitled “Yaphet Kotto,” which debuted October 8th, 2013. The song was accompanied by a provocative video that found Glover’s body floating lifeless in a pool, and foreshadows a moment towards the end of BTI’s narrative.

A few weeks after Yaphet Kotto’s release, Gambino appeared on the radio show Sway in the Morning, where his viral freestyle over a Drake beat addressed his public life. Halfway through the freestyle, Gambino slips into a conversation with Sway, addressing him almost outside of the music itself. This moment also provided a viral spark in the rollout process, emphasized as context for the upcoming album, where we will see him cover the same thematic material and even use a few of the exact same tricks.

In the Sway in the Morning freestyle, Gambino addressed the handwritten notes, composed on Mariott Hotel notepad paper, he had released a week earlier on Instagram.

Images of each of the 7 notes posted to Instagram.



As page 1 of Because The Internet’s screenplay begins with a quote, “You can’t live your life on a bus,” from Camp‘s final track, That power, it appears that we must revisit its outro, a spoken word poem, below:


This is on a bus back from camp
I’m thirteen and so are you
Before I left for camp I imagined it would be me and three or four other dudes
I hadn’t met yet, running around all summer, getting into trouble
It turned out it would be me and just one girl. That’s you
And we’re still at camp as long as we’re on the bus
And not at the pickup point where our parents would be waiting for us
We’re still wearing our orange camp t-shirts. We still smell like pineneedles
I like you and you like me and I more-than-like you
But I don’t know if you do or don’t more-than-like me
You’ve never said, so I haven’t been saying anything all summer
Content to enjoy the small miracle of a girl choosing to talk to me
And choosing to do so again the next day and so on
A girl who’s smart and funny and who, if I say something dumb for a laugh
Is willing to say something two or three times as dumb to make me laugh
But who also gets weird and wise sometimes in a way I could never be
A girl who reads books that no one’s assigned to her
Whose curly brown hair has a line running through it
From where she put a tie to hold it up while it was still wet

Back in the real world we don’t go to the same school
And unless one of our families moves to a dramatically different neighborhood
We won’t go to the same high school
So, this is kind of it for us. Unless I say something
And it might especially be it for us if I actually do say something
The sun’s gone down and the bus is quiet. A lot of kids are asleep
We’re talking in whispers about a tree we saw at a rest stop
That looks like a kid we know
And then I’m like, “Can I tell you something?”
And all of a sudden I’m telling you
And I keep telling you and it all comes out of me and it keeps coming
And your face is there and gone and there and gone
As we pass underneath the orange lamps that line the sides of the highway
And there’s no expression on it
And I think just after a point I’m just talking to lengthen the time
Where we live in a world where you haven’t said “yes” or “no” yet
And regrettably I end up using the word “destiny”
I don’t remember in what context. Doesn’t really matter
Before long I’m out of stuff to say and you smile and say, “okay”
I don’t know exactly what you mean by it, but it seems vaguely positive
And I would leave in order not to spoil the moment
But there’s nowhere to go because we’re on a bus
So I pretend like I’m asleep and before long, I really am

I wake up, the bus isn’t moving anymore
The domed lights that line the center aisle are all on
I turn and you’re not there
Then again a lot of kids aren’t in their seats anymore
We’re parked at the pick-up point, which is in the parking lot of a Methodist church
The bus is half empty. You might be in your dad’s car by now
Your bags and things piled high in the trunk
The girls in the back of the bus are shrieking and laughing and taking their sweet time
Disembarking as I swing my legs out into the aisle to get up off the bus
Just as one of them reaches my row
It used to be our row, on our way off
It’s Michelle, a girl who got suspended from third grade for a week
After throwing rocks at my head
Adolescence is doing her a ton of favors body-wise
She stops and looks down at me
And her head is blasted from behind by the dome light, so I can’t really see her face
But I can see her smile. And she says one word: “destiny”
Then her and the girls clogging the aisles behind her all laugh
And then she turns and leads them off the bus
I didn’t know you were friends with them

I find my dad in the parking lot. He drives me back to our house and camp is over
So is summer, even though there’s two weeks until school starts
This isn’t a story about how girls are evil or how love is bad
This is a story about how I learned something and I’m not saying this thing is true or not
I’m just saying it’s what I learned
I told you something. It was just for you and you told everybody
So I learned cut out the middle man, make it all for everybody, always
Everybody can’t turn around and tell everybody, everybody already knows, I told them
But this means there isn’t a place in my life for you or someone like you
Is it sad? Sure. But it’s a sadness I chose
I wish I could say this was a story about how I got on the bus a boy
And got off a man more cynical, hardened, and mature and shit
But that’s not true. The truth is I got on the bus a boy. And I never got off the bus
I still haven’t


The lesson he’s learning is to “make it all for everyone, always.” This conveys the importance of expressing truth universally, the idea that being honest and open is a means for connecting with others, understanding that their reactions cannot be controlled. We’re reminded here of Glover’s hotel notes, which seem to be a real-life expression of this idea. He’s still on that bus, scared to move forward, scared to try out this new knowledge, scared to be honest.


“You can’t live your life on a bus…”

And this is how we arrive at the existentially-fraught opening line of BTI’s screenplay: “You can’t live your life on a bus…” Exemplified in the cropped movie poster above, Donald Glover has to get off the bus to assume control of himself, to begin expressing his truths and living a life guided by honesty.

And this is where Because The Internet begins.

Ep. 3 – Worldstar

It’s an Internet cesspool that’s cashed in big on senseless fight videos. The site’s popularity has created a sort of voyeuristic feedback loop, in which disassociated bystanders immediately videotape violent incidents and act as if they’re already watching a video on the Internet”

Gothamist

“Blow up /
Worldstar before rap you already know that”

The album’s animated cover exemplifies Gambino’s first words on this track, “Blow up,” suggesting violence and explosion, but also the process by which a person or piece of content can go viral. This duality of violence and virality will reverberate throughout the track.

Before Culdesac in 2010, Glover had already won an Emmy for comedy writing for the show 30 Rock (left), and was starring as Troy Barnes on Community (right). The embedded link refers to Glover’s ascent to fame through comedy writing and acting before his rap career took off.


“So Fresh Prince, they about to bring the show back”

Gambino has often referred to the connections between himself and Will Smith. These connections are multi-layered, referring to both the artists–Smith and Glover–but also the largely autobiographical characters they portray– The Fresh Prince and The Boy.

In each of the songs linked above, Gambino notes the similarities between himself and the star of the 90’s sitcom Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, as both actors and music artists. Left, Gambino raps in The Real: “Imma rap and act Will Smith this bitch.” Right, in Not Going Back: “Callin’ me the new Will Smith, that’s Jaden.”

In Chance the Rapper’s My Favorite Song, Gambino separates himself, claiming his content is more substantive and meaningful than what Will Smith would touch on in his party-rap anthems: “As God as my witness, this Will Smith spit real shit.” As an example, Smith’s 1997 video for “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It.”

This also foreshadows the follow-up project Kauai, which casts Jaden Smith as “The Boy.” Glover acknowledged that Jaden Smith represented a real-life version of “The Boy,” a dizzying oscillation between characters, wherein the relationship between fictional roles and realities becomes blurred.


“It’s your birthday, make it earthquake / fell in love with a [n-word] like a mermaid”

Recall that the first verse began with a reference to Fresh Prince. Considering, we understand how Gambino has used forbidden love to intricately string together his opening Fresh Prince reference, the Little Mermaid, and his own personal narrative.


“Phone call gotta say ‘Moshi Moshi’ (moshi moshi) / Girlfriend acting all wishy-washy (wishy washy)”

“Moshi moshi” is a Japanese method of saying hello when picking up the phone. The phrase is also an internet meme typically used to spam or troll internet message board conversations.


“When I hear that action / I’ma be Scorsese”

A play on the word “action” referring to both a fight and the word a director would yell to start filming a scene; the specific reference to Scorsese refers to films like Goodfellas, Taxi Driver, and The Departed, movies that grapple with the exploits of violent criminals.

Note the smartphone held horizontally with the “filmmaker” lying prone in an attempt at a sophisticated angle. Both Worldstar wannabes and famed directors like Scorsese tantalize audiences with violence, leaving them clamoring for more, spurring more production and leaving the viewer complicit in the process.


“My [n-word] hold it horizontal man, be a professional”

The video above shows a special act Gambino incorporates during live performances of the song. As Gambino interjects, he implies that many Worldstar videos, filmed with a vertical smartphone, reflect amateurish lack of forethought in comparison to the horizontal aspect ratio more similar to professional films. Including this direction in the song asks listeners to widen their view and consider exactly what our obsession with violence and crime based entertainment perpetuates.

The source clip, fight comp 33 from worldstarhiphop.com sampled at 1:03 in Gambino’s Worldstar


“She on Hollywood and Vine / thinkin’ that she Hollywood on Vine”

She on Hollywood and Vine” implies his girl equates herself to the stars commemorated on the Walk of Fame at the intersection of these streets, but the following line implies that she only thinks she’s “Hollywood” as she appears on the now defunct social media app, Vine.


“Showin’ off her ass, that’s a net twerk”

Gambino implies his girl’s “net twerk,” creating sexualized content for the internet, constitutes a network, equating her content creation with that of a television network, in that case, meaning she is “Hollywood on Vine.”

This passage is most likely a reference to the presence of adult film star Abella Anderson throughout Because the Internet. She first appears as a mystery woman in Clapping for the Wrong Reasons, and will show up many more times. We’ll be able to examine her presence more closely in “Zealots of Stockholm.”


“The boy is seeing this through his phone.”

The above scene begins with Fam, The Boy, and their crew driving to a nightclub while eating In-N-Out. When they arrive, The Boy isn’t dressed appropriately to get in the club, so he waits outside, where he witnesses a fight break out after an SUV pulls up and its occupants verbally accost a patron named “Jay.” The boy instinctually begins filming it, as the voiceover calls attention to that fact. Police show up, shots are fired from and into the SUV, and Jay dies on the sidewalk next to the boy.

We were in Atlanta hanging and we came out [of the nightclub] and someone just started shooting in the parking lot. And everyone was yelling “Worldstar!” and running around until the cops came and broke everything up.

Glover in Vice, comparing the scene to a shooting he and his team witnessed

Let me flash on ‘em, we all big brother now, lil sis, let her run around

An allusion to George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984, wherein a government organization known as “Big Brother” monitors and tracks every move of its populace. Gambino notes that our contemporary government doesn’t even have to do the work of surveillance anymore, since people voluntarily record each other and themselves every day. With this voluntary big brother established, the system is content to allow its populace, “lil sis,” to run around.


“Yo, bro, man, check out that video I just sent you, man, this shit is hilarious, man”

Splitting the song in two equal halves, a phone call from “Steve” references a video tweeted out by the real Steve, Steve G. Lover, when Worldstar was released as a single in October of 2013.

The video shows a man sneaking up on a child and spraying him with Silly String. The child reacts by screaming and running away, as if he’d been shot, not knowing it was harmless. From Steven’s description, we get the sense that the “victim” in the video is overreacting, and it’s in this overreaction that Steven derives entertainment. The juxtaposition of this seemingly harmless humor directly after the death The Boy witnesses and records at the club questions the content we encourage and consume everyday.


“That’s what WorldStar is about.”

— Gambino brings “Because the Internet” to Studio Q

“I see more on World Star that’s realer than anything else… It’s like the universe. Like, no one is winning… It’s just life. It’s terrifying, it’s really sad, there’s all this fucked up shit in it. There’s racism, there’s homophobia, there’s sex… But I love [it] because it feels realer than anything else.”

GLOVER ON COMPLEX.COM

With the first half of the song serving as an awakening, and the second more of a psychedelic trip, the implication is the lasting mind-altering effects of the awakening, this “cup of coffee.”

People don’t realize this cake has so many layers that we deal with...I just want people to understand we’ve got to eat the crust of this shit, too. We can’t just eat the stuff we love. We all have to eat all of it and understand.”

Gambino on Vine star TerRio

The duality of the track “Worldstar” is an offering to see both sides of our internet behavior, our frenetic and obsessive consumption as well as our fears and desires. It’s not an indictment; it’s a pursuit of understanding every side of the equation. We can enjoy the sweetness of enthralling imagery and sensational virality. Glover is just asking us to eat our vegetables too.