Because The Internet Track-By-Track Review
As one of hip hop’s driest summers in years draws to a close, Childish Gambino’s sophomore effort, “Because The Internet,” remains in heavy rotation. Even a full nine months after its release, the album is relevant as ever.
Gambino’s meticulously-crafted concept album was elusive upon its December 10, 2013 release, obscured by the massive shadow cast by the unexpected release of Beyoncé’s self-titled visual album. That’s not to say there was no hype built before “Because The Internet” dropped; Gambino had released two floater tracks, “Centipede” and “Yaphet Kotto,” as well as a 20-minute film that left fans and critics extremely confused. Shortly before the release date, he took to Instagram to spill his guts for the whole internet to see. Scrawled across several pieces of Marriott hotel stationery, Gambino shared his darkest and most troubling thoughts.
The same uncut vulnerability shown in these controversial Instagram posts is present throughout “Because The Internet.” Gambino takes the listener on a highly conceptualized rollercoaster ride of loneliness, confusion, and existential turmoil. The thoughtfully-constructed album clearly reflects his artistic vision. He was heavily involved in the production of each track, working closely with his longtime collaborator, Ludwig Goransson.
What really sets “Because The Internet” apart is the unorthodox way in which it is presented. The album is paired with an elaborate 72-page screenplay, available at becausetheinter.net. Childish Gambino’s screenplay brings the vivid imagery and complex narrative of the album to life. It’s difficult to determine if the album serves as a soundtrack for the script or if the script acts as a visual aid for the album. The tracks on the album are split into sections that follow the progression of the screenplay’s narrative, as indicated by roman numerals.
Innovative, wise, and brutally honest, “Because The Internet” is a massive step up from Childish Gambino’s first official release, “Camp.” Critics ridiculed “Camp,” deeming it immature and uninspiring. Some reviewers went so far as to question Gambino’s credibility as a rapper, expressing their distaste for his flow and songwriting. Following this harsh reception, Gambino certainly had a lot to prove.
“Because The Internet” does not disappoint.
Gambino has grown tremendously since “Camp,” and it shows in every aspect of his rapping on his second album. His lyricism is more mature. His social commentary hits harder. His verbal attack is fiercer. His flow is tighter. The album is altogether stronger as a cohesive body of work.
Check out this track-by-track review of “Because The Internet.”
“The Library (Intro)”
The album opens with a four-second soundbite of a computer powering up, establishing the ambience of the album.
Thunderous, brooding and dark, “I. Crawl” captures the listener’s attention straight from the jump. Over an eerie, growling bassline and frantic percussion by Christian Rich, Gambino shows off his lyrical prowess as he weaves seamlessly between light topics such as internet memes to heavy subjects like gang violence and racial tensions.
“II. Worldstar” is a play on young America’s obsession with fight culture and mindless entertainment. Gambino offers up biting social commentary on the desensitization of the internet generation, rapping casually about a video in which the creator “put shrooms in [his] roommate’s coffee and got more likes than a white girl talking.” Goransson’s production is gritty and abrasive, but softens up towards the end of the track when a delicate string pad is added to the mix.
“Dial Up” / 5. “I. The Worst Guys” (Ft. Chance The Rapper)
“Dial Up” serves as a brief interlude, transitioning seamlessly into “I. The Worst Guys.” On this track, the album shifts away from heavy topics and becomes light and fun. “I. The Worst Guys” is cheeky and playful, Gambino’s rhymes full of clever wordplay and not-so-subtle innuendos. Chance The Rapper assists on the endlessly catchy hook, but unfortunately stays silent during the verses.
Gambino reminisces about an old love in “II. Shadows,” a forgettable, R&B-infused track. The song is co-produced by Thundercat and Goransson, and the differences in their musical styles are glaringly obvious. The production is mellow at the start, but then develops into a glitchy, experimental clash. “II. Shadows” lacks cohesion and intrigue.
“III. Telegraph Ave (‘Oakland’ By Lloyd’)”
“III. Telegraph Ave (‘Oakland’ By Lloyd)” is smooth and cinematic, following a clear and relatable narrative of a guy jamming out to the radio in his car. It begins with the sounds of a car starting up, while Yesi Ortiz introduces “Oakland,” a Lloyd song written specifically for this track, which weaves a lusty tale of the narrator reconnecting with an old flame. Midway through the first verse, the song transforms from a well-executed singalong into a full-on Childish Gambino R&B track. Goransson’s production is scintillating and lush, backing Gambino’s smooth vocals flawlessly.
“IV. Sweatpants” (Ft. Problem)
Bold and braggadocious, Gambino is uncharacteristically confident on “IV. Sweatpants.” He owns the track, riding the stark, minimalist beat with precision and ease. He’s on fire and he knows it, rapping “don’t be mad ‘cause I’m doin’ me better than you doin’ you” with utmost conviction.
“V. 3005,” the lead single from “Because The Internet,” has achieved a significant amount of commercial success. While the synth-driven track seems like merely an upbeat love song on the surface, Gambino’s lyrics tell a deeper story of loneliness and existential turmoil. The bouncy production, courtesy of Goransson and Stefan Ponce, distracts the listener from the dark subject matter.
“Playing Around Before the Party Starts”
“Playing Around Before the Party Starts” is a brief interlude featuring Gambino’s masterful piano playing. It acts as a segue into the next section of the album, which is much darker than the previous one.
“I. The Party”
Opening with the giggling voices of partygoers, “I. The Party” drops the listener right in the middle of the action. Over Goransson and Pop Levi’s mean, grumbling synths and 808 drums, Gambino launches into a frantic, angry rap verse. Lasting only one minute and thirty seconds, “I. The Party” could be considered an interlude of sorts.
“II. No Exit”
“II. No Exit” is led by a haunting, uncredited appearance by Miguel. Goransson’s production is creepy and arresting, creating the perfect platform for Gambino to empty the darkest corners of his mind. He paints a vivid picture of insanity and detachment in his verses, likening himself to the brown recluse spider, known for being a perpetual hermit.
“Death By Numbers”
Only 44 seconds in length, “Death By Numbers” is yet another interlude. Driven by Gambino’s hazy singing, the track feels almost otherworldly.
“I. Flight of the Navigator”
“I. Flight of the Navigator,” an understated yet powerful R&B track, is one of the album’s highlights. Over stunning, delicate guitar chords supplied by Goransson, Gambino contemplates death. The song is tinged by a deep-rooted loneliness, evoking strong emotions in the listener. It’s nearly impossible not to feel a slight pang when he croons “We are all knights fallen / Why try at all? / Dark calling / So we're left alone / no one left to call upon / Be still now, broken bones, as I travel on” with an overwhelming amount of soulfulness and vulnerability.
“II. Zealots of Stockholm (Free Information)”
Arguably the most musically complex track on the album, “II. Zealots of Stockholm (Free Information)” features Gambino spitting thought-provoking verses over a Goransson and Sam Spiegel beat. The song begins slowly, but at the one-minute mark room-rattling bass takes over and the track heads in a completely different direction. Gambino enlists the help of Kilo Kish on the infectious hook, a frantic challenge of the internet’s credibility. Making excellent use of wordplay and gorgeous, poetic vocabulary, Gambino spits one of the strongest verses on the whole album at the end of the track. His brilliant internal rhyme schemes and nerve-poking lyrics make the verse memorable and thought-provoking. Each line is delivered with venom and a great sense of urgency.
Clocking in at just over one minute, “III. Urn” is an R&B slow-burn that showcases Gambino’s silky smooth singing voice. This track continues to explore the album’s ever-present themes of death and isolation.
“I. Pink Toes” (Ft. Jhene Aiko)
A light, airy piece produced by Goransson and Ponce, “I. Pink Toes” steers the album to a much happier place, opening with the words “Rainbows, sunshine, everywhere we go.” “I. Pink Toes” details a peculiar relationship between a drug dealer and his girlfriend. Jhene Aiko offers her angelic vocals on the bridge and second verse, giving the song a more harmonious feel.
“II. Earth: The Oldest Computer (The Last Night)” [Ft. Azealia Banks]
The concepts of mortality and the unpredictability of death are explored on the Goransson and Ponce-produced track, “II. Earth: The Oldest Computer (The Last Night).” Over a bouncy dance beat, Gambino explains how making history is the best way to cope with living finitely. Azealia Banks joins him on the hook, singing about immortality and the spontaneity of death. Despite the heavy subject matter, the song doesn’t have the same stark sense of seriousness that “I. Flight of the Navigator” and “II. Zealots of Stockholm (Free Information)” possess.
“Life: The Biggest Troll (Andrew Auernheimer)”
The album closes with a reflective track on which Gambino showcases his lyrical proficiency and tight flow. On this track, any lingering skepticism about his rapping skills has disintegrated completely, as he strikes the perfect balance between complex lyricism and sonic appeal. “Life: The Biggest Troll (Andrew Auernheimer)” is a satisfying conclusion to the hour-long tornado of introspection that is “Because The Internet.” The final sound on the album is a computer powering down, tying back in with the introduction on “The Library.”