You may think you haven’t heard of Childish Gambino, but trust me, you have: he’s the rap identity of Donald Glover, best known for portraying the character of Troy Barnes on NBC’s Community, and formerly a writer for the show 30 Rock. On Tuesday night, Glover performed at the Prospect Park Bandshell after opening acts from rappers Danny Brown and Schoolboy Q.
The audience members formed a line that stretched all the way across West Drive as they waited to be allowed into the venue. By around 7:15 everyone had filed in and was eagerly anticipating Gambino. Maybe their anticipation had something to do with the poor reception they gave rapper Danny Brown; most audience members stood still during his performance, some even with their arms crossed. A few fans in the audience rapped along with Brown as he described performing oral sex in more ways than I could have come up with if I combed through a thesaurus all day, but the majority refused to learn even the simplest call-and-response lines.
Schoolboy Q fared much better, eliciting cheers from the audience with shout-outs like “raise your hands if you smoke weed” (by this time, the air was thick with smoke and pungent with the smell of marijuana, so I wasn’t surprised to see a large number of hands in the air), and “where my white n****s at” (all the white hands, roughly 35% of the audience, went up). He followed the latter with “now where my real n****s at,” causing the African-American crowd to cheer.
Fans’ engagement with the music seemed the theme of the night. Once the sun had set and the string lights that bedecked the band shell were extinguished, it was time for Gambino to begin. The first song, “Outside,” began with the lines “I used to dream every night / now I never dream at all / I’m hopin’ that it’s ‘cause I’m livin’ everything that I want.” Gambino was lit by a glowing yellow spotlight and accompanied by musicians including guitarists and two violinists, a combination that gave the moment an almost religious feeling. When the music swelled into the chorus, we reverentially raised our voices to sing along. There was something magical about being there to watch a man live his dream surrounded by fans who wanted nothing more than to celebrate his success. When he late dedicated the song “All the Shine” to us, I was touched.
Throughout the night, Gambino put on a multi-media spectacle. In addition to the brightly colored lights that swirled in time to the beat and whose colors seemed perfectly chosen to accompany each song (“Heartbeat,” a crowd favorite, was lit blood red), Gambino also had a screen set up behind the musicians that displayed images pertinent to each song: crackling flames during the hit “Bonfire,” a video montage of life in the Lower East Side of Manhattan during “L.E.S.,” etc. Perhaps the best utilization of the video display was during “Freaks and Geeks,” Gambino’s most popular song. He promised the crowd that he would project the lyrics for anyone who didn’t know them, but the speed at which they flew off-screen meant that nobody could successfully rap along to his video. Not that anyone minded; the entire crowd seemed capable of keeping up with Gambino’s quickly twisting wordplay and seemed to have every word memorized.
In the second half of his show, Gambino performed new tracks from the mix-tape Royalty, which he announced would be released on July 4. The tracks were as phenomenal as everything he’s released so far, and I definitely can’t wait to hear them again.