By DeVaughn Harris
Leading up to the present-day, Glover’s career has started to tread calmer waters. He’s eased up the philosophical ambiguity of the BTI era, and become more concrete (as well as explicit) in his storytelling than he was in “Awaken, My Love!” In the past two years, Glover has welcomed a second son, as well as assumed a new role as a shape-shifting griot: a family man. This role doesn’t just take shape in the literal sense insofar that he is a father, it also takes shape in the stories Glover chooses to tell. He has starred in three film adaptations of generationally-fluid stories – each a cinematic universe – in the past two years: Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018), The Lion King (2019), and Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017). All three movies use a cohesive, cinematic world building built across multiple generations, and allowing a modern-day griot like Glover to play multiple key roles, Lando Calrissian (Solo: A Star Wars Story), Simba (The Lion King), and Aaron Davis (Spider-Man: Homecoming), thus allowing him to create an inviting atmosphere wherein age-old stories receive a revitalized retelling by an affective storyteller of Glover’s pedigree.
His role as Aaron Davis in Spider-Man: Homecoming came with some internet baggage. His role as Lando Calrissian came with near universal acclaim. And his role as Simba indicated that he had “arrived” as a performer – he starred opposite Beyonce. But once again we see Glover taking on roles in cinematic universes – Star Wars, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and Disney’s Lion King – that both affirm Black experience and embed that experience in larger media worlds. Glover not only fits so neatly into these roles as an actor, but also as a public figure eager to not just build in own transmedia worlds but to also participate in others.On March 15, 2020, Childish Gambino released his fourth studio album, titled 03.15.20. This album diverges from Gambino’s first two studio albums by matching the flow of “Awaken, My Love!” and re-orienting Gambino’s voice, both literally and figuratively, in his storytelling. He continues to entertain his televisual and musical audience, with an added member though: his second son. The message is the same: Gambino reiterates stories of race, relationships, self-love, and an overall wiser take on life, as one would expect any parent to do. In the album’s penultimate song, “47.48,” Glover (as Gambino) has a conversation with his first-born son, Legend, about self-love. Literally, they have a conversation together. In the conversation Glover explicitly asks his son, “What do you love?”, and after offering a slew of answers, his son says “…and I love myself.” After hearing this, Glover proceeds to double down on the playful interaction saying, “Those are good answers,” to which his son begins to question his father’s love for himself. What we, as the audience, hear in this song is a settling in Glover, rather, Gambino’s music. He can build out as many selves and worlds as he likes, but when his son asks if he loves himself, all these worlds converge into one answer: “I do love myself.” That self – regardless of whether it’s Glover, Gambino, or “the boy” – singularizes the message. Love symbolizes a relatively simplistic point in Glover’s role as a griot; by having a family and moving towards more family-oriented entertainment, Glover is finding a peace of sorts, a peace that race, nor the Internet, nor Atlanta gave him at earlier points in his career. In other words, the story that Glover is telling – “the boy” who is now a father and whose son speaks powerfully now to him – demonstrates that stories don’t have to be incredibly intricate in their form in order to communicate powerful, important content. From Camp to 03.15.20, it’s apparent that Gambino has started to take note of his aptitude for storytelling, thus allowing him to begin to integrate stories more explicitly in his music. In other words, Gambino went from talking about conversations he’s had with the influential people in his life and shifted to actually presenting those conversations to his audience. He’s reorienting himself, and similarly reorienting, or remixing, his method of delivery in order to communicate a story, or specific message, in the same way that a griot does in order to deliver a cohesive message, regardless of form, to multiple crowds.