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Interview: Donald Glover a.k.a. Childish Gambino backstage at Big Day Out '13.

Interview: Donald Glover a.k.a. Childish Gambino backstage at Big Day Out '13.

"How many people live in New Zealand?" asks Donald Glover quizzically. He, who found his musical alias Childish Gambino via an online Wu-Tang Clan name generator, humours our answer of "four" and pantomimes, setting up the tiny room we're in as the "biggest venue in New Zealand".

Well, he should be an expert right? As the Childish Gambino song 'Real Estate' decrees - which also features a guest-rap from his '30 Rock' pal, Tina Fey - Donald Glover ought to be a landlord down in our neck of the woods by now: "I'm feeling like New Zealand, charge it to the Am-X."

I remind Glover about his lyrical name-drop and he makes a promise - with the stifling hot room backstage at the Sydney Big Day Out 2013 [and thoughts of Hobbits] as his witness, Donald Glover solemnly vows to include New Zealand on the world tour for his next album.

So, here's hoping that Troy Barnes never lets us down...

"People are going to hate it and that's okay, but I have to do it because my happiness is important too, it's worth it."

COUP DE MAIN: Considering that you name-drop New Zealand in your song 'Real Estate', it's sort of criminal that you haven't flown over to visit us yet! When is a New Zealand Childish Gambino tour going to happen?
CHILDISH GAMBINO - DONALD GLOVER: As soon as I'm invited! <laughs> I would love to go, I like going everywhere. You know what? Probably as soon as the next [album] one's done, I'll do a show there. I try and go to as many places as possible. It's really cool that I even get to see different places, we have a kinda big following in the Philippines too. I haven't been to New Zealand...

CDM: Well, so you know that you have been officially invited... we hereby gift you with a lolly lei!
DONALD: <laughs> Wow this is exactly what I've always wanted but didn't know I wanted. This is really cool. All of these are candies that I eat when I'm high. This is perfect, I love it, thank you. Sour skittles!

CDM: Going back to your song 'Real Estate', how did you get Tina Fey to drop a verse on it?
DONALD: That song was really fun and I liked doing it and I got Alley Boy who's like a big hero of mine - he's from Atlanta - and I was like, I want that sound. That sound that I was going for I wanted to put somebody on it that would juxtapose and I asked Tina if she would do it and she was just Tina about it. She was like: "Yeah! I'll do it." She did a bunch of different versions, I really should release the different versions of it that we recorded, she did versions as mid-nineties lobotomised girl - like those mid-nineties girls who are like 'heyyy it's ahhh-blah-blaa-bla' and they all talk like that. <laughs> She talked like that on a bunch of them. But yeah, I guess I was just lucky.

CDM: And Danielle from Haim sings on 'Won't Stop' from your 'Royalty' mixtape too. How'd that come about?
DONALD: Yeah! We're just friends. She was in the studio, she came by when we working on that song and I was like: "You know what? I really want a girl to sing that instead of me, could you do that?" She was like: "Sure, but my voice doesn't sound great." <rolls eyes> But of course, it sounded great. I just love them. They're really cool, they're just so good at what they do. So she was just in the studio, hanging out.

CDM: What do you think is the difference between a good rapper and a great rapper?
DONALD: Wow. I don't even think I'm that good at rapping, but I think what makes a great rapper - what CAN make a great rapper -  is someone who wants to be better. There are some rappers out there that I listen to, that I'm like: "You are really good but you could be like the Michael Jordan of rap if you applied yourself." There's a lot of people who are better at basketball than Michael Jordan, but Michael Jordan just wanted to be Michael Jordan, more. I guess it's just drive and laziness, I think also like [being] excited about it, wanting to do interesting new stuff. To be Jay-Z you have to not just be a businessman and wanna do it right, but he took chances - there's some songs people probably told him that's a bad idea don't do that, he was like 'I like it'. <shrugs shoulders> I think that's what makes a good rapper. Somebody who wants to push themselves and their audience further.

CDM: What are your favourite lyrics that you've ever written?
DONALD: It's usually the most recent lyrics, those are the ones I go back [to] - it has to be very special for me to look back and be like 'oh wow'. Because I don't see it the way other people see it, it's weird. I just did an interview with another girl who said 'that lyric, when you say that, it makes me'... And it hits her in a different way. It's not like: "They're all so special to me!" But they all come from a special place. So I can't really answer that I guess, I don't really know if there's any lyric that I really look at [in particular]... but I can definitely point at songs that I've been... the song 'One More Step', when I think about an ex-girlfriend and wanting to get back with her and wanting her to get back with me, every time I hear that song I remember where I was, how I was feeling, just the awfulness of it. Basically, there are songs where I have certain feelings and I'm just like: "No! I don't want to go there again." Or: "Oh man, that's really painful."

 

CDM: A campaign initially started by a fan and then supported by Stan Lee, wound up with you influencing the look of the African-American Spider-Man after the comic writer saw you in costume on 'Community'. What other important changes would you like to inspire in the world?
DONALD: <laughs> Oh wow. I hope in general that my music allows somebody to follow what they really like doing. People are sometimes like: "Oh man, you're so talented and you do a bunch of stuff." I'm not! I swear to god, I'm not. I just like learning stuff, I like doing stuff. And I feel like everybody can definitely do it. And I did the exact same thing: "I'll look stupid if I do this..." So many people were like: "Don't start rapping, it's going to be bad." But I was like: "Man, if I don't do it and I'm like fifty..." Imagine if I was fifty and I didn't get to play this show, I didn't get to do shows, I'd be like: "Oh I didn't do it because my friends might say I'm stupid." I hope a kid listens to my stuff, I hope there's a change made and at least somebody walks away with: "I'm doing this because I like it." People are going to hate it and that's okay, but I have to do it because my happiness is important too, it's worth it.

CDM: If C.H.I.L.D.I.S.H. G.A.M.B.I.N.O. was a real-life acronym, what would each letter stand for?
DONALD: Childish Gambino?! <laughs> That's a long acronym. C! Cool. H?! I can't do this. <laughs> I would want Childish Gambino as a whole to just stand for honesty - be as honest as you can be. This is going to sound really stupid, but even if the honesty is a lie, even if the honesty has to be a lie in order for you to show something that's even truer. It needs to be something that connects with people and I think hopefully that's why people come to the shows. I hope people come to the shows because they feel like there's something there that I can't necessarily articulate, but it's real and it's fun.

CDM: I just saw you on 'Girls' this week! How have you found working with Lena Dunham?
DONALD: It was really fun. She's so great! I don't like to say 'genius' a lot - or at all - but she's definitely somebody I look up to. I feel like we... she has the same kind of love and passion for what she wants to do, that I look for in other people. Because she really cares about her show, every time I met up with her she hadn't been sleeping, she was just working on the show - making sure the show was perfect, re-writing things on set. Every time she'd do a scene, she'd be like: "Okay everybody, we're going to do this..." And then she'd work and then she'd go work more. I really look up to her. I'm very proud of everything she's done, she's so great.

CDM: True or false - you are working with NBC on a new sitcom that will be based on your life?
DONALD: True! It's a pilot. It's written. I actually got a new draft of it that came out and I've been going through it. Waiting to see if NBC will pick it up or not, but I only want to do it if it's going to be honest to where I am and what I want to do. Because I really do like working in that medium, but I feel like it's important to do stuff the right way. It's based upon my life, and I want it to feel like that. I want it to feel like sometimes kinda scary - not that my life is super scary, but just that I'm scared, or scary or embarrassed or stuff like that all the time - so it's just got to be done right. But yeah true, that's definitely true.

IF I HAD A DAY OFF IN NEW ZEALAND, I WOULD WANT TO...

CDM: And lastly, do you have a message for your New Zealand fans?
DONALD: I'm sorry I haven't been there yet. But I love it, just based on Hobbits and things I've seen behind-the-scenes. <laughs> It looks really beautiful and I really would like to go see it. I promise that... this is a promise, once I finish this next album and I'm going on a world tour, I will make sure I go to New Zealand. Make sure! Because I've been wanting to go there for a long time and hopefully people will come out [to a show]. How many people are in New Zealand? Like four people? Okay. So at least, please, two of you, please show up to the show.
CDM: That's a full venue right there.
DONALD: This room is the [size of the] biggest venue in New Zealand? <laughs> Pretty much?

Childish Gambino's latest album 'Camp' is out now - featuring the singles 'Heartbeat' and 'Fire Fly'.

Click here to read CDM Issue #7.

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