With a stream of free mix-tapes and EPs released over the last several years under his Childish Gambino guise, Community’s Donald Glover proved himself a serious rapper, rhyming with more verve and venom than anybody would have expected from the co-star of a loony NBC sitcom. Though he wasn’t usually rapping about much—his verses were mostly excuses for snappy pop-culture references and showboating puns—those releases intermittently touched on loftier and more personal subjects, which Glover delves into far more deeply on his full-length debut for the indie-rock label Glassnote. A meaty concept album about how the insecurities of youth carry into adulthood, Camp is heavy with themes of racial expectations and cultural ostracism—big ideas that aren’t always done justice by Glover's cartoonishly exaggerated, one-liner-laden flow.
Over beats patterned after the choir-and-strings grandeur of Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Glover confides that he has the most epic Carlton complex since West’s The College Dropout, detailing the alienation from both ends that comes from being black and middle-class. But although he aggressively rejects being pigeonholed, especially with the dreaded backpack-rapper tag—“fuck a backpacker with a rhino’s dick,” he sneers—he can’t resist a little backpack sermonizing of his own on “Fire Fly,” where he volunteers himself as the voice of the hood’s silent majority. “These black kids want something new, I swear it / something they want to say but couldn’t, ’cause they embarrassed,” he contends, laying out an alternative vision that’s far less revolutionary than he sells it as: “All I do is make the stuff I would have liked, reference things I want to watch, reference girls I want to bite.” Plenty of rappers share that basic M.O., but the great ones don’t spell it out explicitly.