Updated: Apr 7
By Kyle Blumenthal
Donald Glover at the 2023 WGA Awards. JAMIE MCCARTHY/GETTY IMAGES FOR WRITERS GUILD OF AMERICA EAST
Content warning: strong language and themes.
Donald Glover is colloquially regarded as the modern artist mega-hyphenate. Actor, writer, director, singer, dancer, producer, composer… Glover’s work remains magnificently acclaimed. Fans love him from cult classics like Community, creating the Afro-Surrealist Atlanta, and making Grammy Award winning music under the moniker Childish Gambino.
A hip hop nerd myself, Gambino’s second studio album Because the Internet (BTI) remains in constant rotation. Released in 2013, BTI showcases musical seeds later developed in “Awaken, My Love!” (2016) and features the groundwork of surrealism found in Atlanta.
BTI was one of first certified gold rap albums to explore the unprecedented experience of life in the digital age; anonymity, existentialism, and viralism. Few fans are aware, however, that Gambino wrote a Because the Internet screenplay that pairs with the track list of the album.
The screenplay follows The Boy, a silver spoon narrator taken advantage of by unappreciative friends. We meet The Boy, an assumed extension of Gambino the album-closing song “That Power” (at the 03:00 mark) on Gambino’s debut studio album Camp, whose story continues in Because the Internet.
A few pages into the BTI screenplay, readers are meant to begin playing the tracks of the album sequentially the screenplay.
Let’s try it together. Begin the album’s lead-off track, “Crawl,” and read the passage.
For me, listening with the song added a layer of urgency and disruption. Did listening to the song affect your experience reading the passage? Let’s skip ahead and do another with the song “Shadows.”
Did reading the screenplay affect your experience of the song? Made it more romantic and lighthearted, in my opinion. Let’s skip to one you might recognize… “Sweatpants.”
Big flex by The Boy. Felt like it was me poppin’ off in the club. If only…
The symbiotic relationship between music and visual arts has fascinated cinephiles like me since the dawn of film. While the screenplay has never been fully produced and realized, there exists some scenes Glover has filmed and released. Check out the fully realized scenes for Crawl, Shadows, and Sweatpants.
Five months before Glover dropped BTI, he released a short film titled Clapping for the Wrong Reasons (directed by Hiro Murai, frequent director of Atlanta and longtime creative collaborator of Gambino’s; featuring names like Chance the Rapper, Flying Lotus, and Trinidad James), which may be a sort of prelude to The Boy’s life before the story of the BTI screenplay.
If you’re curious what Gambino himself has to say about Because the Internet, he interviewed himself in 2022 discussing TV, his current artistry, and past works. Per Because the Internet, Glover quotes, “[BTI] is the rap OK Computer. It’s prescient in tone and subject matter and it’s extremely influential” (Interview Magazine). For reference, OK Computer is Radiohead’s third studio album, revered in its depiction of a globalizing “world fraught with rampant consumerism, social alienation, emotional isolation and political malaise…OK Computer has been said to have prescient insight into the mood of 21st-century life” (Wikipedia).
Combining a studio album with a screenplay is an innovative combination of storytelling mediums. While I would love to further dissect the journey, motifs, and symbolism of the story, this article would quickly into an novel. I highly recommend giving it a read while listening along. It will change your experience of the legendary album. I will leave the joyful, heartbreaking story of The Boy in your hands to enjoy here.
P.S. Page 42 is my favorite.