On the season-two premiere of NBC's "Community" last fall, quarterback-in-recovery Troy Barnes and awkward sidekick Abed Nadir rapped about the animal kingdom with Betty White. Unbeknownst to some fans of the sitcom, rapping is old hat for one member of that unlikely trio. And no, it's not White.
Under the moniker Childish Gambino, Donald Glover (Barnes) is preparing to showcase his rhyming skills in a big way. His first nationwide tour, IAMDONALD, kicks off April 16 in Ames, Iowa. The 24-date trek will spotlight his stand-up comedy and music, complemented by a video component and visits from "special guests in special ways," according to Glover.
"We did preview shows in San Francisco and Los Angeles," he adds, "and I was really amazed at how well they went. It just felt very 'me.' "
While conventional hip-hop shows frequently feature guest stars from rap's elite, Glover's gigs are more likely to draw comedy royalty like Tina Fey. And while Childish Gambino's quick, crisp rhymes aren't comedic in a novelty way by any means, the former "30 Rock" writer's sharp-witted cultural references and improv timing shine during his highly personal tracks.
"Somebody said something about me the other day," notes Glover, "that I thought was really true: 'He's able to do both [comedy and rap] because his through line is the same.' "I'm not trying to be hardcore when I rap, and I'm not trying to be hardcore when I do comedy."
Comedy aside, Childish Gambino pays tribute to legends of the rap game with his moniker, which he found after putting "Donald Glover" into an online Wu-Tang Clan name generator. "I actually met RZA, and he heard how I got my name," says Glover. "He was like, 'Yo, it's like the computer had a brain, you know? Childish Gambino -- you're kind of hard but you're like a little kid, so it's playful.' That's the biggest compliment I've ever gotten."
Childish Gambino revealed his playful side in late February when he premiered his music video for "Freaks and Geeks," the first single off his five-song, nontitled EP that drops March 8. The video, which features Glover dancing by his lonesome in a warehouse, has already racked up 169,000 Vimeo views (as of March 3). As with Glover's 2010 full-length album, "CULDESAC," and his previous EPs and indie rock-sampling mixtures, he will offer free downloads of all tracks from the new EP on his website, IAmDonald.com.
"I never really had any plans to sell anything -- not to say I'm against it," Glover says with a hearty laugh. "But in the words of Lil Wayne, my music's free because it's priceless."
Childish Gambino's music may be free, but that's not stopping fans from showing their support. "I've had people send me checks, literally," Glover says. "I love it -- my music affected someone so much that they sent me a check for 20 dollars. That's a sandwich! That's several sandwiches!"