A legend in two games like I’m Pee-Wee Kirkland.
Pusha T, one half of the Virginia rap duo Clipse, said this on the classic street anthem “Grindin'”. It’s basically flaunting his ability to be great, maybe even the best, in two separate worlds. Richard “Pee Wee” Kirkland is a New York City playground basketball legend during the late ’60’s. Pee Wee was so good in fact that he was drafted by the Chicago Bulls in the 1969 NBA draft but he chose to sell drugs instead. Back then, vastly unlike today, there wasn’t much money in professional sports but there was a hell of a lot of cash in moving dope. King Push, like Kirkland, was involved in the drug game heavily, respectfully, and moved into music to become one of the most respected rappers of his generation (regardless of subliminal shots sent from Drake).
For Pusha and Pee Wee, being multifaceted was essential for survival and their talent created a legacy for both men. In 2016, being multidimensional separates you from the pack. Just being a rapper isn’t good enough anymore. Can you sing? Can you become a cultural icon? Can you be a trending topic (whether for good or for bad, but mostly for good)? It feels like Donal Glover has maximized his talents to have the best year of any artist. Before 2016, Glover consistently showed that he a passion for multiple areas within different forms of art, whether it’s through acting, stand up comedy, rapping or singing under the Childish Gambino moniker. This year, Glover has peaked his talent to shine the brightest in television, with FX’s Atlanta, and music, with new album Awaken, My Love!.
As executive producer and writer on Atlanta, we follow the life of Earn (played by Glover), up and coming rapper Paper Boi (played by Brian Tyree Henry) and Van (played by the beautiful Zazie Beetz), the mother of Earn’s daughter. The show is equal parts funny and thought provoking. In one scene, we can laugh at a guy hilariously questioning his sexuality and in the next, we are jarred by police brutality and black mental health. The writers pull no punches when dealing with not only social issues but day to day human issues. I’ve seen people compare the show to The Chappelle Show and Seinfeld, but those comparisons are not baseless; Atlanta is the best television comedy since Chappelle went off air.
A complaint of the show is that Glover’s character isn’t the best character of the show and, to be fair, that’s absolutely correct, but that is the genius of the show. Earn is point guard of the show, but more like John Stockton and less like Russell Westbrook. He sets up the other characters to flourish. We care about Paper Boi’s career, we are intrigued with Darius’ questionable and psychedelic wandering, we Van to win. Glover’s shine doesn’t tarnish the shine of others and it’s remarkable for the show.
Beyond the show, Gambino’s recent musical release Awaken, My Love! is an intriguing adventure. Think of Parliament-Funkadelic but with more pot and less acid. The music itself isn’t as trippy as George Clinton’s locks but AML feels like a throwback to that era. To me, Gambino is more fascinating when he ventures outside of just strictly rap music. His 2014 EP Kauai showed that he isn’t just limited to being an MC and this album further solidifies that. Glover showed that he was a formidable rapper years ago with Camp, but the evolution of his music and his acting career has proven that he can move comfortably outside of hip-hop.
With the success of Atlanta (renewed for a second season only after being on the air for two weeks) and we the acclaim that Awaken, My Love! is garnering, Donald seems to be the only one enjoying 2016. No release date has been set for season two, but it’ll be one of the most anticipated shows of 2017. More music! More laughs! More Van! 😍
By the way, is that Glover in the new Spider-Man flick? It looks like he’s winning 2017 already.