Opinions, Pop Culture

Influential Tunes: Donald Glover’s path to success was also one of my own self-discovery

For some reason I found myself in deep reflection while I was in the midst of a crowd who were eclectically dressed with vibes ranging from neo-soul to 2010s hipster.

It was an odd place to be in contemplation. The color palette was everywhere–muted colors on fur and velvet, a variety of textures and patterns and vibrant tones on slim fit t-shirts.

Although the individuals in the crowd looked like they wouldn’t share anything in common, they were brought together by the artist on stage, who was lit by a divine set of beaming lights.

It was December 2018 at the Forum in Inglewood–my first and last time seeing Childish Gambino perform.

Childish Gambino is the retired moniker of rapper/singer Donald Glover who is also an actor and show writer. Glover may be a jack of many trades but he masters them well.

For each of his endeavors come praise and recognition. His 2019 single “This Is America” won the Grammy for record of the year. “Atlanta,” the show he created and co-wrote, won 5 Emmys.

I applaud Glover’s relentless work ethic. He has an impressive portfolio of achievements but what I adore most was witnessing his journey of success.

That’s what led me to self-reflection at his concert. It was surreal to see him perform for a crowd of around 16,000 people because I thought it would never happen. I assumed his music would remain obscure and would never reach a mass audience.

When I first discovered Childish Gambino, his music did not fare well with the general audience. I remember recommending him to my friends, cousins and anyone I could talk to at the time–none took a liking.

Childish Gambino did not look like a traditional rapper of the 2010s. He did not carry the same pop-cultural appeal as A$AP Rocky or Big Sean. At the time there was a specific mold of what a hip-hop artist should look like and Childish Gambino did not fit that.

The first time hearing Childish Gambino was when I came across the music video for his song “Freaks and Geeks.” He wore a slim-fitting American Apparel hoodie, selvedge jeans and sneakers that looked like they could be bought from Urban Outfitters.

Childish Gambino dressed in hipster fashion which was not the usual look for a rapper. However, hipster culture was very pretentious and the publication that deemed whether music was cool or not–deemed Childish Gambino uncool.

Pitchfork rated his debut album “Camp” very poorly and called it an “overblown pop-rap production.”

The fanbase that loved his early music was very niche.

Glover was a New York University graduate, dabbled in stand up comedy and had a role in the Emmy nominated show “Community.” His pipeline to rap was unprecedented and his music reflected that.

He rapped about nonconventional hip-hop experiences. Glover was proud of his professional background and mentions writing for the show “30 Rock” in his song “Let Me Dope You.”

Glover did not try to appeal to any audience. He did not embody a persona to rap. As Childish Gambino, Glover was being his authentic self and found recognition through years of hard work.

His music and career inspired my own personal journey. I was directionless after high school. I was depressed, had a sparse social life and hated my body. While my peers were in college figuring out their careers I was in isolation–figuring out myself.

However, the journey to find purpose in life and create a better self image didn’t just come about. I spent a lot of time in existential dread–paralyzed by anxiety. But I persisted and took my journey step by step.

The first thing I wanted to work on was my weight, but going to a gym or running at a park was not an option due to my insecurity. So I found interval cardio routines on YouTube and worked out from home vigorously. I lost 80 pounds and became more comfortable in my clothes. This helped me craft my own fashion sense and I was finally able to present myself in the way I’ve always wanted to.

This gave me the courage to enhance my social life. I felt like an outcast for years because socializing always made me feel empty. Each time felt like a performance and I was never able to be my authentic self.

But I put myself out there. I went to music festivals, comic book conventions and surrounded myself with individuals who shared common interests with me. I said yes to every opportunity to meet new people.

I even got the confidence to go back to school as a late bloomer and found friends in college. That was the last thing I expected as an older student.


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So when I saw Childish Gambino that night I took a moment to recollect my own journey. Floor side at the Forum, I pumped my hands to the rhythm and shouted my favorite lines along with a crowd who was just as excited.

I witnessed music that I previously only ever heard in seclusion. I was proud of how far he came as an artist and proud of myself–for going to that show alone.

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