There’s a boy—skinny, average-heighted, nappy hair. He wears horn-rimmed glasses that are almost always perched strategically on the bridge of his nose. The boy is relatively quiet. He doesn’t really go out of his way to talk to anyone; he prefers not to speak unless directly spoken to. Even when he does speak, he mulls over each and word that comes out of his mouth very carefully—almost methodically.
He’s a black kid that goes to a mostly black high school located in a mostly black inner city. It’s a rarity to see him walk through the hallways without a pair of earbuds jammed into his ears. The boy chooses to block out his surroundings frequently. He knows he doesn’t belong where he is, but he’s stuck. He has big dreams—very big dreams. Dreams so big that telling other people makes him kind of uncomfortable. He’s an outsider to his peers and they don’t really understand him, but he’s accepted that.
Lately, he’s become fascinated with someone who shares a similar background—a black outsider with big dreams that grew up in a place where he wasn’t able accomplish those dreams. The boy looks up to this dude who eventually did everything he dreamt of, and more. He aspires to be like this man, especially taking into account their similar circumstances. The man is wildly successful in multiple fields—just like the boy wants to be—and he continues to toss more accolades onto the steadily growing pile on a daily basis. He is truly a modern-day renaissance man.
This man whom the boy finds this strange sense of hope and relatability in just so happens to go by the name of Donald Glover, and occasionally Childish Gambino. As of late, this is the way Glover has affected many others like the boy.
I would have never imagined five years ago that the corny token black dude from Community and the equally as cheesy rapper known as Childish Gambino would become one of my biggest inspirations. But after all, it is 2016—the year where Donald Trump became the President of the United States, Gucci Mane was featured on the number one song in America, and a slain gorilla momentariy became the most important topic in the world. I’ve fucked with Gambino heavily since Because the Internet (the screenplay is still one of my favorite things ever), but it wasn’t until this year that I realized how much of a genius the man truly is. This for sure wasn’t his breakthrough moment, but it definitely was the year that he shattered that glass ceiling and truly found himself.
Not too many people had a better 2016 than Donald Glover. In a year that was filled with disappointment and hardship for many, Glover flourished. It was the year proved once and for all that he needed to be taken seriously. He unapologetically embraced his blackness—premiering an entire TV show with the sole purpose of examining life as a disenfranchised black man in modern-day, millennial society while also releasing a full-on 70’s, funk-infused album (both critically acclaimed). He quietly secured roles in both the new Spider-Man movie and the new Star Wars movie. Even more quietly, he welcomed his first “baby boy” into the world—an achievement which may personally outshine everything else that happened this year for Glover.
Atlanta was arguably the beginning of his impressive run. The show (in which Glover created, stars in, writes for, and occasionally directs) gave an accurate, in-depth portrayal of what’s it’s like being young and black within the inner-cities of the South during the Internet era. It was funny, it was insightful, it was authentic. Atlanta, along with counterparts like black-ish and Insecure, became partly responsible for obtaining the representation of minorities in film and television by award shows after many years of a lack of diversity. The first season alone was a brilliant breakthrough, providing a surreal depiction of events that apply to almost all us on a daily basis.
2016 was also the year that Donald Glover pushed boundaries like no other. “Awaken, My Love!” was without a doubt the most unexpected, intimidating project (or “sucker punch” as Questlove called it) released this year by an artist whose typically known for rapping and the occasional smooth falsetto. The album totally rejects the rap that Glover began his music career with and there is rarely any traditional singing per-se present. Instead, he opted for an almost overwhelming whirlwind of psychedelic funk production and vocals ranging from strained and rough to high-pitched and dreamy. In doing so, he showed once again why he is currently one of the most talented, creative minds alive today.
While many of his contemporaries tossed out half-baked, uninspired pieces of work at the masses, Glover did something that’s almost foreign in this year’s age of short-termed immediacy. He took a risk. He made something polarizing—something that somehow sonically sounds like it could’ve came out fifty years ago and twenty years into the future at the same time. He could’ve easily gone the commercial, more satisfying route that he teased with 2014’s Kauai, but Glover instead chose to step outside of his comfort zone to craft something a little more daring (something that he admitted himself wasn’t necessarily “fun” to make), and I’m so glad he did. AML singlehandedly encapsulates the strenuous amount work Glover truly put into 2016.
Glover isn’t the first to be as prolific as he is. He isn’t the first renaissance man. Some may have a valid argument that Will Smith, or even Jamie Foxx, did it first to a much bigger extent. What makes Donald different, though, is his approach and execution. In both music and TV/film industries filled with fraudulence, no one has been quite as honest with themselves as Donald Glover. That’s part of his appeal—his sincerity and almost average Joe-esque nature. It’s why the quiet black dude from the inner city and the hipster white girl from California can both relate to him one in the same. While Donald chose to shed light specifically on black culture this year, that sentiment remains true.
Despite his success this year, Donald Glover might remain that corny black dude in many people’s eyes, and I’m sure he’s perfectly fine with that. I think he’s shown that he doesn’t care what people think anymore. This year, he debuted my favorite TV show in years, released his most sonically mature music project to date, captured huge acting roles, won numerous awards, and became a father. He’s recently creeped his way into one of my biggest inspirations because, in many ways, I’m just like him—black, admittedly unsure about certain things, trying to fit square blocks into circular holes. He showed me (and so many others like myself) that it’s possible to be that “outsider” and do many different things from a creative standpoint—to not be limited by where you’re from. If that’s not inspiring, I don’t know what is.
Donald Glover—forever the dark horse—lowkey won 2016, and the crazy thing is, I have a feeling he’s just getting started.