• Pop Vicious

The Crossover Artist

written by: on October 10, 2011

“Who’s that rappin? Yo, it’s Troy from Community,” Donald Glover exclaims under his hip-hop moniker Childish Gambino on the track “Untouchable” from his 2010 album Culdesac. With that full length, an EP this year and multiple other genre-bending mixtapes under his belt, Glover is making a name for himself in the music world. This year has seen him perform to sellout shows across the country on his IAMDONALD tour, land a coveted spot at the Rock the Bells festival amongst hip-hop heavyweights like Nas (“Played between Mobb Deep and Wu. #insanity,” he tweeted after his set in New York) and this past week signed a recording deal with Glassnote, home to the bands Phoenix and Mumford & Sons.

Not bad for a part-time job, right?

Up to this point Glover has been doing all of this in his spare time. He recorded much of Culdesac and EP in the trailer during breaks of his full-time job as part of the brilliant ensemble cast of NBC’s “Community.” Until this year, this is how much of America knew him. Well, that and a viral video with more than eight million views he did a few years back with his comedy crew Derrick Comedy entitled, yes, “Bro Rape.”  Though, initially, it may have helped draw attention to his music, Donald being known mostly as an actor meant he had an uphill battle to face as far as becoming a respected artist. When his mixtapes I Am Just A Rapper and I Am Just A Rapper 2 hit the Internet, he had to fight off assumptions that they were joke-rap albums from fans searching for the next Lonely Island. Like any artist attempting to cross over into another realm of entertainment, Glover had to prove his talent was legit in order to be taken seriously.

The stigma of actor-turned-musician, or vice versa, is nothing new. Who can forget Eddie Murphy’s “Party All The Time”? The audience is always going to be skeptical when a familiar face initially tries to venture into another field. Don’t mistake, it can work, but the artist has to prove their worth in order to be welcome in the eyes of the ticketholder or album downloader. For every Drake or Method Man there’s a Nas or Lance Bass.

Will Smith and Justin Timberlake have to be two of the biggest examples of crossover success. In their cases, unlike Donald Glover, their success in another field caused both of them to put almost all of their focus into acting. Sure, Smith will probably drop a “Men In Black 3” theme song and Timberlake occasionally pops up to do a performance or two at random locales, but when’s the last time either of them devoted themselves to what got them notoriety in the first place?

It seems crossover success leads to separation from the prior focus of an artist. But there’s no denying either of them in their new arenas.

Smith changed himself from a scrawny kid in neon, rapping about his parents and Freddy Krueger in front of graffiti-covered walls, to an Oscar-nominated actor who became known as “Mr. 4th of July” because of summer blockbuster after summer blockbuster. Timberlake bolted his N*SYNC pals and put together two of the best R&B albums in recent memory, only to go five years without making a record to concentrate on becoming a jack-of-all-trades actor. Timberlake has headlined rom-coms opposite Mila Kunis, starred in Aaron Sorkin’s Facebook masterpiece “The Social Network” and had a turn as the new Alec Baldwin, winning two Emmys for his Saturday Night Live hosting duties. Lorne Michaels has repeatedly hinted that Timberlake could easily be a regular cast member if he wanted to focus on comedy. But, like a lot of artists, his famous person A.D.D. won’t let him.

The aforementioned Method Man, Ludacris, Tyrese and numerous others have found box office success to go along with their music careers. But, these guys seem to still strive for credibility. No one is going to confuse one of the 15 installments of the “Fast and Furious” collection with an award-winning film, but they rake at the box office, just as Jamie Foxx can seamlessly transition from playing Willie Beamen(“Any Given Sunday”) to holding claim to the No. 1 album in the country. Notoriety and monetary success in the crossover world doesn’t necessarily equate to acceptance.

Which brings us back to Donald Glover. Glover seems to be in a class of his own at the moment when it comes to the crossover stigma. Unlike Timberlake and Smith, Glover is simultaneously gaining momentum in both careers—check that, all three careers. His new album, Camp, will be released this fall, Season 3 of “Community” premieres this month and his stand-up special, “Weirdo,” will debut in November (not to mention he pops up in the latest incarnation of The Muppets). Having already solidified his respect in the comedy field while spending time in the writer’s room of “30 Rock” with Tina Fey and penning the feature “Mystery Team” with his Derrick Comedy pals, Donald’s newfound hip-hop credibility separates him from those that just simply bring in box office numbers.

The unique thing about Donald is that there is sincerity in every avenue he chooses to pursue. Whether he is lyrically wearing his heart on his sleeve in his music or playing Troy with a conflicted honesty, you get the sense that he was born to do what he is doing at that moment. And the best part is that he’s just getting started at everything he’s doing. “To all my fans that’s saying Donald Glover’s ‘bout to blow, just give me six months so you can say ‘I told you so’” (“Fuck It All”).