The coda of the new album by Childish Gambino, Because the Internet, is called "Life: The Biggest Troll (Andrew Auernheimer)." To rap about what life online has done to life offline, Gambino—that is, the actor and comedian Donald Glover—has taken as inspiration the hacker now imprisoned for exposing AT&T's and Apple's security flaws. Auernheimer's become a folk hero of the internet, notwithstanding his First Amendment-waving proclivity for racist comments. I get it, I think: the song isn't just about trolling but it's trolling us too. It's Glover pointing at how, in internet life, just when "you think you get it, you don't."
Gambino isn't doing it for the lulz though: as with much of the record, as with the hotel-room confessional he posted to Instagram a few months ago, there's a good deal of psychic turmoil to be sincerely concerned about here ("Realities like allergies, I'm afraid to go nuts / Life's the biggest troll but the joke is on us / Yeah, the joke's you showed up"). His therapy is confession, embracing and lampooning a world governed by social media, memes, and absolute chaos. (The 3D printed gun makes an appearance in another song; surprisingly, there's no mention of bitcoin.) The question is implicit: how much should he share, and how much can we care?
Above, listen to "Life: The Biggest Troll (Andrew Auernheimer)"
There aren't easy answers to that question, but when Gambino asks it, it sounds good. Every time I listen to him, I remember I should listen to him more. Despite the haters (he's emo, he's too cool, he's privileged—he wrote for 30 Rock and stars on Community) and his savvy attention grabs (the Instagram post and a short film and that screenplay), Because the Internet exhibits his rapping talents and his ability to make hay out of his 21st century nausea.
Noisey's Eric Sundermann has a lot of thoughts about all of this, and on the occasion of the new album he takes a peek under the hood to find a combination of Drake-ish reflectiveness, Yeezus bombast and luscious Frank Ocean-ish production—and also, a "fucking good record."
…Perhaps what makes Because the Internet so compelling is that this shit gets weird. Looking at the tracklist, the album is divided into different sets of Roman numerals, suggesting that each set is a vignette in the development of its story. Glover even released a screenplay to pair with it, and the development of the record feels like it's slowly spinning in and out of control. The five-song run to end the record, starting with “Zealots of Stockholm (Free Information),” is one of the most bizarre bits of music to hit 2013. There are no hooks; only chaos. It jumps back and forth from Justin Timberlake-like croons to confusingly beautiful production that sounds like someone getting electrocuted to some shit with a flow fired straight out of a cannon. Lyrically, out of nowhere, Glover imagines himself getting assassinated in a Denny’s diner by a gun made with a 3D printer. He paraphrases Kinison. He gets political: “I never understood the hate on a nigga preference / when ever marriage is a same sex marriage / same sex every day—monotonous.” Then, after skitzing around for a few tracks, he ends the wild up and down ride that is Because the Internet with “Life: The Biggest Troll (Andrew Auernheimer),” which showcases his best rapping skills, spitting lines so fast, internally rhyming and flowing faster than your ear can keep up, on par with any other MC out there. It's brilliant, really. Glover makes you stick it out till the end—through all his fucked up imagery and post-modern thinking and weird house-like production and everything else that may annoy you about his rapping—simply to be like, "Oh yeah, fuck you. I can actually rap."
Who knows how much mileage he can get out of blaming the internet, or how much any of us can, but it's a rant you want to listen to more than once, and a reminder that it's good to talk about this web-fueled ennui. Now: what are we going to do about it? And who's gonna rap about that?