Childish Gambino Talks 'because the internet' Album & Staying Honest

Childish Gambino
Autumn De Wilde

The actor/rapper has sold a comedy series, 'Atlanta,' focused on the music biz in his hometown, to FX.

In mid-October, Donald Glover worried fans and observers with a series of Instagram photos of handwritten notes that outlined his various fears. "I'm afraid of the future," the first read. But for the actor/comedy writer/rapper, who releases music under the name Childish Gambino, it wasn't a cry for help–it was one for honesty.

"People think I'm depressed, but I'm just being real with myself and with everybody," Gambino says. "A good percentage of my day was spent making people feel comfortable, and the music that goes with this story isn't necessarily comfortable. I feel like I don't have the time to make people comfortable."

The music in question is off Gambino's new album, "because the internet," out Dec. 10 through Glassnote. The LP, a bizarrely compelling collection of songs that veers from caustic rap numbers to emotive, largely instrumental ballads, follows his 2011 Glassnote debut, "Camp," which bowed at No. 11 on the Billboard 200 and No. 2 on Rap Albums, and has moved 242,000 units to date, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Before "Camp," and the critical acclaim and touring that accompanied it, many thought Gambino's rap career was some sort of joke: He first gained fame on small-screen sitcoms, writing for "30 Rock" and starring on "Community."

But proving skeptics wrong didn't make Gambino feel any more accepted when he began working on "because the internet" last Christmas. "I felt very alone," he says. In the spring, Gambino settled into a rented house in the wealthy Los Angeles neighborhood of Pacific Palisades, regularly welcoming a wide array of musicians, producers and artists to collaborate. "I wanted to be with real people. We had just finished touring Australia and I didn't want to go back home, so instead I went somewhere that was totally different from what I'm used to. I didn't want to make another album, really–I wanted to create a world."

The album, helmed by Gambino and a variety of producers, is very much about the fears he expressed on Instagram and how the Internet has disconnected people. Gambino sees his music as a way to counteract that-which is one reason he recently left his role on "Community" behind.

"I feel like I have to inspire people," Gambino says. "If I'd just stayed on 'Community' I don't know if that would ever happen."

The musician's leave from TV is only temporary: He recently sold a comedy series tentatively titled "Atlanta," focused on the music biz in Gambino's hometown, to FX, and is in the process of writing it. However, unlike with "Camp," Gambino is devoting a sizeable amount of time to promoting "because the internet." The album will be accompanied by a screenplay Gambino penned, although he's not sure whether it will be a physical document or if it will only be available online. In August, he released a Tumblr-inspired film online called "Clapping for the Wrong Reasons," which he says gives "context" to what he's doing now. Gambino has weekend tour dates, mostly college shows, scheduled through the winter. He's also featured on Def Jam singer Jhené Aiko's recent single "Bed Peace" and its video. His newfound availability means that Glassnote can more fully push the album to its potential. "We didn't have him last time," Glassnote founder Daniel Glass says. "It was a struggle with him leaving us to go tape six days a week on 'Community.' It was very tough in the middle of an album. He's done with 'Community,' which is a terrific show-but it's great to have him so committed."

The label has unveiled two songs off the album so far-emotive street track "Centipede" and the playful "3005"-and plans to drop a video for the latter and at least one more track before the album streets. Much of the marketing plan comes directly from Gambino, who recently held impromptu album listening parties for fans in Toronto and New York. He and the label say that they'll be unveiling more unique fan "experiences" leading up to the release.

"What you've already seen from him is just the beginning," Glassnote marketing/project manager Rachel Stoewer says. "If you pay attention to the details, there's a beginning of a story happening. His fans are the ones who are really reacting and understanding that."

But Gambino says he's just responding to fan feedback on the fly. "I have a bunch of stuff planned, but the audience has as much control over it as I do," he says. "I don't know what I'm doing. People think I have some master plan but I don't have any answers. I'm just trying to stay honest and do some dope shit on my way there."