“Man, why does every black actor gotta rap some?” wonders Donald Glover, the actor who moonlights as the rapper Childish Gambino. “I don’t know / All I know is I’m the best one.”
It isn’t an empty boast. With his new, sure-to-be-breakthrough disc, “Camp,” Glover has completed his unlikely evolution from comedy writer to actor (he stars in the sitcom “Community”) to ridiculously good alterna-rap star.
“Camp,” which details Glover’s rise from suburban kid to, at least to hear him tell it, underappreciated rapper, is smart, tightly made and intensely personal. It’s focused on a central complaint: that Glover is a cultural misfit, too hip-hop (read: black) for indie rock, too indie rock for hip-hop, or, as Glover sums it up on one devastating line on the great “Fire Fly,” “the only black kid at a Sufjan [Stevens] concert.”
Although “Camp” makes much of this divide, its best songs look backward. They’re built-up, soul-influenced tracks that reference Glover’s childhood, often braced by singsong backing vocals and stringed instruments (such as “Outside,” which owes a good deal, intentional or not, to the Cults’ “Go Outside”). The disc’s grimmer material, most of which references Glover’s perceived uncoolness (such as the tuneless but funny hipster takedown “Backpackers”), doesn’t fare as well.
Nostalgia and aggrievement merge on “Hold You Down,” a dark, strangely pretty indictment of racism (“You’re not not racist ’cause ‘The Wire’s’ in your Netflix queue”) that almost makes a case for the disc’s main theme — the television star as underdog.
“Fire Fly,” “Hold You Down,” “Outside”