Entertainment & Arts

Childish Gambino aims to be more than a rapper/actor

Childish Gambino
Image caption Glover stars in the US show Community and has guest starred in 30 Rock

Childish Gambino is the rap pseudonym of actor, writer, producer, DJ and stand-up comedian Donald Glover. In a global recession, does it make economic sense for a performer to be multi-skilled.

The Gambino crime family is one of the so-called "Five Families" which have dominated organised crime in the United States.

Rapper, actor and comedian Childish Gambino is definitely not one of them. Born Donald Glover, he took his name from an online random name generator, affiliated to the hip hop crew The Wu Tang Clan.

Aside from the more obvious dangers of publicly calling yourself by a name which could book yourself a once in a lifetime chance to swim with the fishes, another problem is that someone else could get there first and register your name on networking sites like Twitter.

And that's exactly what an unknown man from East Liverpool, Ohio did, although he hasn't tweeted since 2009.

"Yes, I never thought it was going to work out," says 28-year-old Glover who hails from Stone Mountain, Georgia. "I never thought I would actually be a rapper and be doing shows, so it never was a big deal to me.

"He has MySpace and Twitter, it's trippy. I don't want to mess with him because he had it first.

"In a weird way, I wish it was my account and people would come on it and see this white guy."

Glover released his debut album Camp toward the end of last year but he is still best known to US television audiences as high school quarterback-turned-nerd Troy Barnes from the show Community.

Glover is aware of the perception that music fans will have of yet another actor launching a music career.

"A lot of actors or comedians do music and they might even do an album but that's it and people think it's a vanity project and it feels like one because it doesn't seem like they're really into developing it and getting better," he says.

Image caption Glover (left) has also filmed a small role in the new Muppets movie

Glover himself is not immune to the same level of scrutiny, amid the largely favourable reviews of his debut, he comes in for some particularly harsh criticism, with one review calling Camp "one of the most uniquely unlikeable rap records of this year".

Glover's comedy background wouldn't have helped but he insists he "wasn't worried about people thinking, 'This is a joke'. There are jokes in there but I didn't think that people would think I didn't respect music".

If his music is yet to win everyone over, his dramatic credentials are in no doubt. Glover attended a school of the arts and went on to study dramatic writing at university.

He wrote for Jon Stewart's Daily Show and was spotted by Tina Fey who offered him a job writing on the hit comedy 30 Rock.

In 2009, he joined the cast of a new series Community, set in a community college and he added stand-up to his repertoire, taping a full-length show for Comedy Central.

"Lately I feel like I have more to prove with the music," he says. "Every once a while, I'll write down a joke, every once in a while I'll do a little stand up but all my energy is in the music right now because I have more to learn."

Glover's tackling of several different disciplines demonstrates the growing number of young artists who have taken on more than one role in the entertainment industry.

His most obvious British comparison is rapper and singer Plan B, whose album The Defamation of Strickland Banks topped the UK album chart in 2010 and went on to be one of the year's biggest sellers.

Though the pair do not share similar academic backgrounds, Plan B - aka Ben Drew - has also added acting and directing to his musical activities, working opposite Michael Caine in the film Harry Brown and Ray Winstone in the forthcoming big screen adaptation of The Sweeney.

He has also written and is directing his first feature Ill Manors.

Other young artists to have successfully crossed between disciplines include Slow Moving Millie - better known as actress Amelia Warner - who is now signed to Island Records.

Mark Featherstone-Witty is the founder and principal of the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts and says he has seen more students who are keen to broaden their skills.

He says it makes commercial and financial sense for young artists to branch out.

"If you've decided what field you're going into and presumably what you're going to spend the rest of your life doing, you've got to think, 'How can I survive?'

"One way people do that is by building a portfolio - doing what you love and other things and the second way, if the work isn't there going out and doing it yourself.

"Self-promotion through whatever means has become a serious bit of additional work."

Taking self-promotion to even greater heights, self-confessed geek Glover even started an online campaign calling for him to be cast as the first black Spider-Man in the rebooted franchise.

A year later, Marvel announced the first half black, half Hispanic Spider-Man would appear in their comic books.

He may have missed out on the role, which went to the British actor Andrew Garfield, but Glover says he is happy providing inspiration for young people.

"I think I'm a great role model, I'm doing exactly what I want to do, exactly how I want to do it, on my own terms," he says.

"I work hard, I don't compromise stuff - I think that's exactly the kind of role model kids need."

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