growing up is childish
Writer, actor, rapper, comedian and philosopher, Childish Gambino is introverted, yet world famous. Here he answers life’s most complicated questions.
Childish Gambino by William Selden
Childish Gambino contradicts himself, repeatedly. His recent album, 3005, betrays a crippling fear of the future and despite being a deep and considered character, the Childish stage name, was randomly collated from the Wu Tang Clan name generator. "I've lost all hope of a happy ending, depending on whether or not it is worth it, so insecure, no one's perfect," chimes the verse leading up to the chorus on 3005, lonely sentiments not usually befitting a comedian. Working as a writer for the NBC comedy series 30 Rock, acting as Troy Barnes on the widely acclaimed American sitcom Community before moving into standup and then releasing chart-topping material as a solo artist, Donald Glover, aka Childish, is a complex man who poses troubling questions to his audiences through his lyrics.
Does his ability to understand life with brutal honesty make him enlightened or just depressed? Posting a controversial letter on Instagram, documenting real life, debating his fears on the futile meaning of our existence as opposed to promoting a successful, glamorous online avatar, fears for Donald's mental health were sparked earlier this month. "People freaked out about the Instagram thing but no one ever puts bad stuff on there, you never see an Instagram of someone's funeral, never and funerals happen more than anything, people are dying all the time," he explained. Soon to release the third Childish Gambino album to date, the aptly titled Because The Internet via Glassnote Records, home to Chvrches, Flight Facilities, Givers and The Temper Trap, Donald admits to being addicted to work saying, "lf l wasn't working I'd be so sad, man. I'd be really sad, I'd be hurt" and describes his relationship with hip-hop, like "Sid and Nancy". Focusing his ambitions on global success, the thirty one year old's passionate, pop-rap has amassed him a cult following. Finding Donald relaxing ahead of a secret show in London at Island HQ, i-D sat down to philosophise the meaning of life and understand how music can make a difference.
Are you a night owl?
Lately, I just don't go to sleep. I hate sleep.
I hate the thought of going to sleep too.
Yes, exactly. It's like FOMO. I'm always afraid of missing shit. I don't believe in sleep, I just wanna pass out. When I'm at home, I don't sleep in my bed because I hate the feeling of the day being over.
For someone who doesn't sleep, you seem like quite a calm person.
I'm not very calm. I definitely feel more sensitive than a lot of people. I've always been like that, I can read people really well, I can feel what people feel. I just want to make people happy.
If you're a sensitive and self-conscious person, why did you chose to put yourself in the position of working in the public eye?
As of late it hasn't mattered. I've just realised that all that stuff doesn't matter.
How can it not matter?
It doesn't matter. Everybody's going the same way, we're all going to die, we're all dying. If somebody says something about you, no one will even remember you very soon. So it doesn't matter, nothing matters.
How did you come to that place?
I kind of realised my natural state is nothingness. That is everythings' natural state.
Doesn't that make everything pointless?
So why carry on trying?
Because it's fun.
What's fun for you right now?
Coming up with ideas, dope ideas that makes us all go, 'wow, why hasn't anybody thought of that before?'
What was your favourite age?
There are times from each age that I thought were dope. That's the absurd thing about life nothing's comparable, I only know what I have so far.
What age did you change the most?
I mean, I guess I would say now. I don't know if l' m changed. I feel like these are all the kind of questions where l need to know the ending. It's like being in the middle of a book and people being like what's the best part of the book? I try and live like a dog, to be happy where I'm at. It's always been pretty dope.
Is being a comedian a rewarding role for you?
I guess the ultimate reward would be having an impact on the Earth. Most people get that feeling when they have kids or when they make more humans. Our lifetime is not long, Albert Einstein had no idea how important he was, how important that equation was, Steve Jobs really couldn't have seen that his app allowed some kid to make something that changed these bigger things because our lifetimes are not long enough on the scale of infinity. I don't know how those ripples are going to affect other things, but hopefully if they're positive who cares what anybody thinks. Why be scared? Just live your life.
So what could you envision yourself changing?
If it's good enough, I probably can't even envision that right now. I know that I'm on a path to do the most freeing thing for me.
How did you find peace?
For me a massive amount of sadness. It made me think about the point of sadness, or pain in general, and that opened a lot of ideas. Where did the sadness come from? I had a bad year, you know, a really bad year...
Do you feel more comfortable feeling happy or sad?
I think there are states of being happy and sad because you're never comfortable with either. When I'm really happy, I'm not comfortable. It's kind of like when you're high, you get that feeling of paranoia and you realise that's why you got high in the first place, as much as you feel scared, you did it to feel alive. The in-between is boring. I feel like most of life is the aftermath and the bits in between are the goodness. I woke up a couple of days ago and I had this thought, that your whole life is just you trying to remember how you died. We all know it's going to happen, so this whole time we exist and we all know we are going to die eventually but you will only realise it's happening in the moment but then it's too late. I don't believe anyone truly believes they will die. No one does.
Do you enjoy life on the road?
I do like travelling, I like going to see other places.
Do you drink on flights?
Sometimes, but it can feel kind of gross.
Do you find you change a lot when you drink?
No. When people do that it's out of futility. It gives you an excuse to do whatever and then you can apologise later. That's not truthful, you're deadening that feeling. What people don't realise is that there's going to come a time in your life when you almost wish you had a sadness, a heart break, you know? I remember my first kiss; I could replay it in my head.
Is it a nice memory?
Yeah, it was awesome. It was a good first kiss.
Do you take drugs?
Yeah, when I go out sometimes.
What's the difference between drinking and taking drugs?
They both have lows afterwards, one low is just way further down. It's a different feeling, I do natural stuff. Drugs feel a little more honest. It doesn't feel like the drunk kind of honest where you're just saying things to get a reaction out of people like, 'Fuck it, I'm gonna fight this guy.' I feel like I'm aware, you're more willing to do a different type of thing, drinking makes me kind of sad.
Do you care more about how you feel about yourself or what people think about you?
There's a balance of both.
Does one ever out outweigh the other?
Neither of them out tip each other for me because both are necessary. If someone's telling you directly how to live, you don't learn anything, you don't get better at anything. Good confidence comes from hard work.
Do you think relationships progress you further?
Relationships are work. My parents aren't still together because they were happy every day, I'm not happy by myself most of the time, so being with another person that's just work. Confidence comes from knowing you can do what you want to do, natural ability only gets you so far, the rest of it is just actual work, that's everything. Whether it's about being imaginative or whatever. But we're all a working progress, that's the thing, it all needs to be with all of us together working towards the same goal. I like that idea. It just has to be, 'cause the opposite is not an option.
So we are all going towards one end goal and that's going to be the thing to unite us and bring happiness?
I think, I believe that, I believe that the thing that you're most passionate about for yourself is entirely you. The time of people thinking, 'I'm passionate about this thing but another person is hating this thing so I'm gunna pay someone else to care' is becoming redundant, now you're just going to have to do what you want to do because all the other stuff just won't matter.
You think that's going to happen more and more in the future?
So we're all going to be happier?
If we're more honest, people get caught up in their feelings too much, we need to be aware of our emotions.
Text Milly McMhaon
Photography William Selden