Top 19 of the 2010s: Number 4

We’re down to the final four. Do I have to pay the NCAA something for using that? Probably. How about fantastic four? Shit. Now I’m messing with Disney. Whatever. I have four albums left in my countdown of my favorite albums of the 2010s. Happy? Here’s the list so far:

#19: New Amerykah Pt. 2 – Erykah Badu

#18: Lemonade – Beyonce

#17: Laila’s Wisdom – Rapsody

#16: Lonerism – Tame Impala

#15: Choose Your Weapon – Hiatus Kaiyote

#14: Ventura – Anderson .Paak

#13: Stone Rollin’ – Raphael Saadiq

#12: We got it from Here…Thank You 4 Your Service – A Tribe Called Quest

#11: The Electric Lady – Janelle Monáe

#10: But You Caint Use My Phone – Erykah Badu

#9: No Beginning No End – José James

#8: Currents – Tame Impala

#7: Dirty Computer – Janelle Monáe

#6: “Awaken, My Love!” – Childish Gambino

#5: The 20/20 Experience – Justin Timberlake

#4: Because The Internet – Childish Gambino

I summarized my love for Donald Glover/Childish Gambino recently on this site. Check it out here if you missed it. That doesn’t leave a lot left to dissect so instead I’m going to leave an anecdote here instead that has nothing to do with Donald Glover.

Some close friends of ours started a tradition in the early 2000s of having a holiday party together every December. It felt so adult at the time. We were in our early 20s and a few of the couples in our tightly knit group of friends started getting married and buying homes. Even though the parties were meant to be more “grown up” than the college parties we were accustomed to at the time, most of them ended up devolving into excessive drinking followed by the guys playing basketball in the driveway and smoking Backwoods on a cold Wisconsin Saturday night. Our wives/girlfriends stayed in the house and (I imagine) questioned their taste in men.

Quick tangent: We call Backwoods cigars “Kojak shitlogs” or “shitlogs” for short. We keep it classy. One random night out after at least half a liter of cheap gin my homie Tews decided that Backwoods cigars weren’t like other cigars. They were actually shat out by Kojak the Barbarian. Little trolls or elves – I can’t remember which – eagerly wait by Kojak’s anus for his magical feces so they can catch it, roll it, and seal it in bags for us to smoke. I believe it’s true. So, from this point on if I make a reference to Kojak shitlogs you understand why.

As time progressed the holiday parties started rotating from house to house and the addition of children changed the dynamic. Over the years we created and perfected the wildest, most entertaining Christmas ornament exchange that’s ever been. Tews would always find a way to F-bomb in front of the kids a few times or tell them that if they weren’t good Santa would piss in their beds while they were sleeping in them. We still snuck outside to smoke our traditional holiday Kojak shitlogs. Every year one of the kids would inevitably find out and lecture us on the dangers of smoking. Don’t you nosy kids know that you can’t get lung cancer from smoking Kojak shitlogs once a year? They’re natural. Freshly ejected from the ass of Kojak the Barbarian!

Fast forward to 2013. Childish Gambino’s second album Because The Internet was released on December 10. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been baffled and mesmerized by an album the way I was with Because The Internet. It’s a difficult emotion to put into words, but if I had to label it I’d say it’s a thrilling feeling listening to something new, unique, and wonderful. A mixture of being unsure about what I’m hearing but also 100% sure that I’m loving it. It happened when I heard Digable Planets’ Reachin’. It happened when I heard Talib Kweli rap on Reflection Eternal’s Train of Thought. Donald Glover made such an astronomical leap as a rapper in the two years between his debut album Camp and Because The Internet I just couldn’t wrap my head around what I was hearing. Between Glover’s verses and Ludwig Göransson’s music Childish Gambino had transformed from novelty act to seriously talented artist. I put this album on repeat and listened in awe. Someone else had to hear this album so I could talk about it. Who better than Tews? With the annual holiday party coming only a few days later I picked up a copy of Because The Internet on CD and gave it to Tews under the guise of being a Christmas present. My intentions were selfish. I wanted badly to talk to someone about it.

At the party some of our friends overheard us talking about the CD and asked us to play it. Before I knew it we had a group of people hanging out in the kitchen mixing drinks and listening to Because The Internet instead of Bing Crosby or Mariah Carey. I expected everyone to hate it but was pleasantly surprised to find the opposite. They were digging it. The impromptu Childish Gambino listening party was the highlight of the night. Something was off during the 2013 holiday party. I couldn’t put my finger on it, I just knew something wasn’t right. Our annual shitlog smoke was down to just Tews and me. As Tews and I stood in the driveway puffing on Kojaks and shaking from the frigid winter air we expressed our concern. Tews sensed something wrong as well. One of the wives who was usually the organizer of the party hardly showed up. Where was she? Why did it seem like we couldn’t get everyone in the same room? Half the people were upstairs and half were in the basement. If something was wrong people weren’t doing a great job of hiding it.

We found out three months later.

In March the couple that was the glue of our group told us they were getting divorced. They were the one couple I would’ve bet my house would be together long after everyone else was dead and gone and they were no more. As time passed more of the couples we spent time with – many of whom attended our annual holiday party – went their separate ways. Divorce spread through our group of friends like it was contagious. My number one concern, of course, was that everyone was OK, happy, and doing what they felt was best for their families in the long run. If a family is miserable they shouldn’t hold it together just for the sake of holding it together. However, selfishly as their friend, it was devastating. You naively assume that those “til death to us part” vows are exactly what’s going to happen. I believed those people became our brothers and sisters for life. When they split, who do the friends get in the divorce? You spend the most fun, formative years of your life with a group of people and suddenly half of them are gone. I have friends that I adore that I haven’t seen or heard from in years and I miss them desperately, but I also understand. Our old crew represents a time in their life they don’t want to revisit.

2013 was the final holiday party. I 2014 there was a lot of “should we?” talk and nobody could make their minds up. While we never consciously made the decision not to have the party again, our indecision said it all. It wasn’t the same. Sadly, as much as I love Because The Internet, it’s always a reminder of that final night many of us were together. A harbinger of heartbreak and disappointment. I think of the old crew every time I hear this album and I smile. I had a lifetime worth of fun with that group and I still love and miss every single one of them. My wife and I spend a lot of time with Tews and his wife. One time in the midst of the barrage of divorces we decided the four of us were going to get a nice bottle and do a shot. A shot to us for being the last couples standing. More importantly, a shot to celebrate the old crew. That’s become our new tradition. We were with Tewses recently for the first time since COVID quarantine. We did another shot and I thought of how lucky we were to be there together. About the people we lost to COVID. But mostly I thought of the old crew as I gulped down Patron Silver (which was delicious, by the way). We should’ve been listening to Because The Internet.

Awards time!

Favorite Song

This album is loaded with quality candidates that all capture different vibes. This one depends on my mood. One track that works for me regardless of mood is “Sweatpants.” Perhaps the best display on the entire album of Donald Glover’s progress as a rapper and lyricist. His delivery is on point. His flow keeps you on your toes. His lyrics are clever, but unlike some of his earlier mixtape work, he’s not trying too hard. He finds his own lane on “Sweatpants” and stays there for three minutes. Dope track.

Favorite Lyric

All the girlfriends saying “here we go again”
Rich kid, but he act like a gentleman
Last one didn’t end like it should’ve been
Two dates and he still wanna get it in
And you’re saying it’s because of the internet
Try once and it’s on to the next chick
X-O to O face on your ex’s, right?
And we can do the same thing if you wanna have better
When your thoughts can’t breathe and you’re thinking ashtmatic
And you wanna be a mom and I wasn’t mad at her
I was thinkin’ ’bout me I’d be really bad at it
‘Cause I’m thinking ’bout me
Weeks in Dubai, Fourth of July, house in Kauai, yeah we can try
So let’s try

Telegraph Ave.” is more about the vibe than the lyrics in my opinion. Glover spends most of the track singing over a dance track full of hand claps and ethereal keyboards. Then two minutes in Glover spits a blinding rapid fire verse. My love for this verse is probably more about the delivery than what he’s actually saying and I shouldn’t consider them my favorite lyrics. It’s still clever, thought provoking, and written in a way that I enjoy. Plus, “Telegraph Ave.” is one of my favorite tracks on the album and deserves some love in this post, but I don’t know where else to fit it.

Favorite Slow Jam/Chill Song

Because The Internet is two separate albums, in my opinion. The first half up until the track “3005” is a hip hop album. I’m not trying to minimize it. It’s an incredible hip hop album, but compared to the second half, it sounds like a more traditional rap album. The second half is something completely different. A trip through the parts of Glover’s mind less traveled. Donald Glover’s Innervisions. Further off the beaten path than the already unorthodox first half of the album. In the midst of the soundscape is “Urn.” It’s a 75-second aural trip with Glover flashing the same falsetto chops that made “Redbone” a smash hit. It’s brief but beautiful and leaves you wanting more.

Ring Walk Song

The first track “Crawl” opens on a terrifying chord progression and a sample of someone screaming “shit, goddamn.” After some buildup featuring more minor chords and an apocalyptic choir Glover bursts in at the 45 second mark with a verse that leaves you asking, “Wait, this is the same dude who did ‘Firefly‘ a couple years ago?” Everything about this song leads you to believe something bad is about to happen. This would be an amazing ring walk song.

Favorite Happy Song

Everything about “3005” screams happy song. The melody, the tempo, and Glover’s delivery. It makes me laugh every time that a song that features all of this happiness and lyrics like “no matter what you say or what you do, when I’m alone I’d rather be with you” also contains the words “fuck these other n***az” repeatedly in the chorus. I appreciate the unnecessary vulgarity. Still a happy song vibe, though.

Song I’d Play If I Was DJing

It would almost certainly be “3005” again, but I’ve made it this far into the post without mentioning “The Worst Guys” and that’s not right. “The Worst Guys” is the other song I considered for my favorite song on this album and I’ve given it no love. If I had to choose which single song encapsulates the vibe of this album more than any other it has to be this one. It’s chill but also intense at times. At times you might think it’s the best chill song on the album, but it features a tornado siren and blistering electric guitar solo. Glover’s lyrics are at the same time lovely and violent. Last of all, it features a criminally brief appearance by Chance the Rapper. How do you put Chance on a track like this and just have him say the same five words repeatedly? Unacceptable.

6th Man Award

The correct answer here is, once again, Ludwig Göransson. However, I did that the last time I wrote about a Childish Gambino album. Also, calling him a 6th man in any of Childish Gambino’s music is a discredit to his role. He’s more like the Pippen to Donald Glover’s MJ…or maybe more accurately, the Phil Jackson to Glover’s MJ. I’m going to take this in a completely different direction instead and give some love to Danny Pudi. Danny Pudi starred as Abed Nadir, best friend of Glover’s Troy Barnes, for over four seasons on the TV show Community. On TV they were inseparable. Pudi/Abed had nothing to do with this album that I know of. In fact, if Glover’s lyrics are as autobiographical as they seem, his involvement in Community may have been slowing his ascent at this point in his career. On a show driven by a well balanced comedic ensemble, Troy and Abed stood out. Community at its peak is one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. Glover was fantastic as a high school jock-turned lovable community college doofus, but it was his counterpart, Abed, and Pudi’s performance that made Community something special. Abed compared what was happening in his real life to something he saw on TV or in a movie. He was somehow at the same time completely detached from reality, but simultaneously fully aware of his detachment and therefore able to grasp what was happening. It was a unique role and Pudi crushed it. Troy was the fun sidekick along for the ride. I adore Troy, but if there’s ever a Hall of Fame for great television characters, Abed belongs in it. He’s what makes Community different. For the longest time I had a difficult time separating Donald Glover from Community and Troy, therefore from Abed as well. Whenever I see him I still think “Troy and Abed in the mooooooorning!Because The Internet was my first real taste of Glover without Pudi. I’ve gotten used to it since, but I wanted to give Abed some love in this space too because he deserves it. I can’t write a few thousand words about Donald Glover without mentioning Danny Pudi. Troy and Abed forever. #sixseasonsandamovie

With that, it’s down to three. I’m going to be completely transparent here: I’ve been writing these Top 19 of the 2010s posts for about 20 months now. I have a top three, but I’m still not certain of the order. I can’t tease #3 because I’m not sure what it’s going to be. I better hurry up and decide.

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