fun fun fun fest
If the Fun Fun Fun Fest crowd were indicative of the wider rap-consuming culture, Childish Gambino might be the biggest rapper in the world. For a guy who, a year ago, was mostly known—if at all—as part of the ensemble of a low-rated sitcom on America's 4th place network, the crowd hyped to see Gambino on the Blue Stage was staggering.
There are a couple reasons for it. Donald Glover, Childish Gambino's actor and stand-up comic alter ego, is an Internet phenomenon, propelled by social media savvy and a non-stop work ethic that has him crossing into many different worlds online. And perhaps more importantly, he's complemented his new-school approach to success by putting in the work the old-fashioned way—through relentless touring, hand-selling his work to an increasingly growing audience, and getting better every time he comes around.
That's no mean feat, either, as the bar for Glover's rap persona was already high after two previous Austin performances this year—one at SXSW and one at Emo's as part of his music-and-comedy IAMDONALD tour. Each of those sets were impressive, but he's stepped up to fill each stage he's been given the opportunity to play and risen to the level required.
That's what made the Childish Gambino set on Saturday feel like such a triumphant one. The crowd was much larger than at each of the previous shows, and while that seems like it’d be a reflection of the festival setting, that crowd was impassioned. Glover stalks the stage with an energy that it's hard not to reflect back from the crowd, pogoing up and down, climbing amps and risers and generally making being a rapper on stage look like the funnest possible job ever, while his band—a welcome accompaniment at a hip hop show—plays tight and aggressive rap-rock. They tore through tracks from Culdesac, Glover’s first LP as Childish Gambino, opening with that album’s “Hero” to a ravenous audience; when the band started playing the opening notes to “Freaks And Geeks,” the breakthrough single from this year’s self-titled Childish Gambino EP, the entire audience turned into a frenetic rap-a-long (even the icky misogyny of lines like “fuck a bitch to pass the time” and “ee cummings on her face” got the full-crowd treatment).
In fact, the biggest question lingering over the set was, "How much bigger can Childish Gambino get?" Dominating a nighttime set at a major outdoor festival is no mean feat, and it's possible to see a semi-headlining gig at Fun Fun Fun Fest 2011 turn to a prime time slot at, say, Coachella 2012, if the upcoming Childish Gambino full-length album turns out to be hot. Glover's approach to the form—real and vulnerable, with enough bullshit posturing to keep listeners from feeling, like, wimpy for being into it, spat over aggressive, rock-influenced beats—seems endlessly marketable...
And ultimately, that was the biggest takeaway from the Childish Gambino set at Fun Fun Fun Fest: that this is an artist who’s been ready to take any stage he’s been on by storm, and who will be doing the same on a bigger one soon. The energy from both the crowd and the performer were palpable, and Glover performed like the hungriest rapper in the game. For a guy with outsized ambitions and a non-stop pace for putting out new material and touring—as well as a steadily growing and absurdly passionate following—that’s likely to translate to major success. Now if he'd just drop the casual misogyny, that would be a cause for nothing but celebration.