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CHILDISH GAMBINO By Ralph Moore

03 February 2012
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CHILDISH GAMBINO

A bit of backstory before we begin. Silverlake resident Donald McKinley Glover was born on my birthday (September 25 1983) which makes him a careful, balanced Libra. That balance worked out brilliantly when he was growing up too. In the US, Donald originally found fame as community college student Troy Barnes in the NBC comedy series Community while in the background, he carefully balanced a day job as comedy writer for The Daily Show and 30 Rock. But it all changed in 2011 when he signed to Glassnote Records as Childish Gambino and released his debut album ‘Camp’. So no prize for guessing why Gambino’s camp decided that his first-ever UK shows should be held at CAMP, the Old Street sweatbox of the same name.

But we’re here for two very good reasons: one, that same album is very fine indeed and two, Donald is undoubtedly a star in the making. Tickets for the first night are selling for upwards of £100 online on the resale market and inside the excitement in the air is palpable: impressive stuff for a cool Wednesday night at the end of January. So when he emerges and sparks into Hero and recent hip pop smash ‘Firefly’ - which deftly demonstrates his wit, wordplay “I use to get more laughs when I was laughed at” with shameless hip hop braggadio (“girls like: we love you, we go to LSU, you’ve got to do a show so we can come and molest you”) set his stall perfectly: his raw, word-perfect flow is one part Lil Wayne, two parts Kid Cudi and three parts Kanye with a secret soupcon of iron Glover added at the top. Indeed, he indignantly references Cudi on his other club smash ‘Backpackers’, much to the delight of the I-Phone-toting hordes at the front tonight. Full of venom and vitriol, the song is all about how he was never "black enough" for the purist hip-hop crowd, but still plenty "black enough" for the police. As West has shown before him, there’s plenty to be said and done in the name of artistic indignation. The trick is to make sure they don’t turn on you.

But really, it’s his moves and freestyles which impress the most. Throughout the show, he’s funny, his band – including an expert violinist and guitarist - is funky and he doesn’t give a fuck: the best combination for an emerging rap artist. Halfway through he covers Adele’s ‘Rolling In The Deep’ (with John Legend’s new vocal and the beats from Jamie XX’s remix, natch) and makes it utterly his own; later on he tackles Kanye and Rihanna’s ‘All Of The Lights’, showing up that Kanye sweat again, but it’s a rare mis-step in a show that signals the emergence of an important new artist to the hip hop genre. Later on, he pumps things up with ‘Heartbeat’ which is essentially Kid Cudi covering the best song Justice never made and is a hundred times better than that could ever sound. If the stars collide, this will be a huge hit: but like Donald, it may well be too clever for a mainstream audience. Still, stranger sightings have been spotted in Silverlake, that’s for sure.

Side amendum: this doesn’t happen very often but Donald’s show was so damn hot that I felt compelled to go again the following night for another round of Childish banter. He didn’t disappoint. 

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TAGS: CAMP / CHILDISH GAMBINO / LONDON / RALPH MOORE

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