Childish Gambino’s NPR Rap Growing Pains

“Buy me out of my contract” is a record industry gripe most often reserved for major label artists who’ve been placed in limbo. Signed but not totally developed, unable to release music despite being paid (often large quantities of money) to do just that. Artists like Azealia Banks, JoJo, and Angel Haze are recent poster children, and acts like The Stone Roses and Prince have suffered through similar ordeals. By contrast, Childish Gambino — otherwise known as comedy actor/writer Donald Glover — is neither signed to a major label nor being barred from releasing music. This did not stop him from going off on a brief Twitter tirade Monday.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ExVtrghW5Y4]

Shortly after releasing “Sweatpants,” the second proper video from his sophomore album, Because the Internet, Glover tweeted a few vague complaints regarding the way his label, Glassnote Records, handled the album roll-out.

https://twitter.com/DonaldGlover/status/455755510013128704

https://twitter.com/DonaldGlover/status/455755659665870848

https://twitter.com/DonaldGlover/status/455755927321190400

https://twitter.com/DonaldGlover/status/455756339063422977

https://twitter.com/DonaldGlover/status/455756773916291072

https://twitter.com/DonaldGlover/status/455758206250127360

https://twitter.com/DonaldGlover/status/455759646930644992

https://twitter.com/DonaldGlover/status/455766185527631872

As of press time, “independent major” Glassnote has not responded to Flavorwire’s request for comment regarding Glover’s comments and contract.

The blog Glover speaks of in his first tweet is his new, three-part Deep Web blog, which launched this week and features the “Sweatpants” video, along with photos and emotional notes from the road. Deep Web is also the name of the app Glover launched recently to accompany his live shows, in which fans can send drawings, pictures, messages, etc. to the stage.

Keep in mind, Because the Internet is an album that commits deeply to its theme; not only does Glover use the name of notorious hip-hop trash site Worldstar for the title of a song on the album, but the site is also at the heart of a screenplay Glover wrote to accompany the album. And the roll-out has been full of out-of-the-box digital strategies to portray Glover’s vision. The blog is one aspect of his web-themed campaign for Because the Internet; elsewhere, it’s incorporated a fake porn site in which triple-X star Abella Anderson used a live-chat to announce Glover’s The Deep Web Tour and to film his “3005” lyric video.

From the outside, the intensive campaign surrounding Glover’s second album is what he needed to push him from an actor with a rap side project that’s been taken seriously to various degrees by the hip-hop community to the rapper who quit Community to do this shit for real. So it’s clear he really wants his music career to be one with longevity, not just a project he’s trying out (which is, to a certain extent, how his early EP sounded).

https://twitter.com/DonaldGlover/statuses/404839207283077121

What Glassnote did was get Glover’s first album, 2011’s Camp, in front of a primarily white middlebrow audience that the label knows how to rally; remember, this is the company that brought Phoenix and Mumford & Sons to the American mainstream. With Camp, I’m not sure the label even serviced Gambino to Urban and Rhythmic commercial radio formats, and if they did, he did not stick. Glover practically created the genre of NPR Rap, even garnering one of their coveted First Listen spots, but it’s clear it’s not what he wanted to do with Because the Internet.

The label has approached Because the Internet differently — they have serviced singles from the album to Urban and Rhythmic formats, and as a recent article on radio industry resource All Access notes, Glover’s “3005” moved deeper into the top 40 on Rhythmic radio playlist charts this week. An even bigger sign that Childish Gambino has been embraced by commercial radio: he’s playing two of the biggest rap radio festivals this spring, New York’s Hot 97 Summer Jam and Los Angeles’ Power 107 Powerhouse.

This specific riff aside, it may better serve Glover to go to Def Jam or Atlantic as he threatens in his recent tweets. Those are two labels with the infrastructure to propel him into the bizarre and narrow world that is rap radio. That said, it’s also a world with less interest in the conceptual art Glover seems to want to keep making. I think what we see here is an artist at a juncture: legitimacy and fame vs. weird Internet art projects. Whatever happens, I’m sure Glover will live-tweet the experience.