[Self-released; 2011]

It wasn’t initially common knowledge that Donald Glover (of Derrick Comedy, “30 Rock,” and “Community” fame) was an aspiring rapper. However, it has apparently been his first true love for longer than a minute. Ever since Glover gave a try to the Wu-Tang name generator and was reborn as Childish Gambino (my Wu-Tang soldier name is Officer Stinkah, btw), he’s been affording himself an outlet to spit a verse, drop a beat, and land a laugh. Sounds simple, but he actually takes it pretty seriously. As well he should.

Occasionally rapping about recording his songs pretty much where he folds his laundry, Glover has been producing his own music under the Childish Gambino moniker since dropping Sick Boi back in 2008. Generally releasing albums for free through his blog, he has had several mixtapes since then, and even a full-length LP Culdesac back in July of 2010. His latest EP entitled EP is probably his shortest release, but may contain his most honest work.

On EP, Glover spits his tongue-spiraling lyrics and purposely geeky references, as per usual, but never forsakes passion for playfulness. Instead, he blends an animated, overly boastful (albeit exceedingly charming) character with one of true heart and intensity. With an existence that could easily be seen as “joke rap,” this lands things on a take notice kind of level that actually makes you take notice. Glover famously mocks his hipster cred with “nerd girls” and the like, but also expertly embraces it with winking affability, and an innate talent at justifying both his comportment and his contradictions.

EP opener “Be Alone” finds Glover’s silky vocals easing you into the track as well as the experience, using his less flashy tactics to impart the sentiments of the careful work that will follow. “I don’t wanna be alone,” he utters in the hook. Later, he reminds us that, “We are just some rappers, got no luxury of subtlety.” Next, “Freaks & Geeks” finds his cocksure declarations making themselves at home, keeping with the confessional theme, but adding comedic flare in spades. “Get sloppy drunk, I stay whiskey neat. My clique should be canceled, Freaks & Geeks.” Possessing an infectious energy coupled with a curiously high-minded lunacy, Glover can no doubt turn a phrase.

Placed atop Gambino’s self-produced tracks, these elements make for an interesting dynamic. Glover’s homemade beats are as crisp and popping as expected, but are also impressively musical. EP closer “Not Going Back” is a perfect example of these pieces working in harmony. Given the smallness of the production, it is noteworthy how authentic Glover’s sonic framework can come across. This nicely feeds into the personality of EP.

The end result is a portrait of an artist with a surprising number of effective facets still learning how to meld them all into something truly special. Whether he is playing the lovesick lady chaser, the ironic shit-starter, the earnest, aspiring performer, the impassioned, fiery-eyed purist, or the elephant-dicked girlfriend stealer (that one may be his favorite), they all feel uniquely branded, and unforced–which is kind of shocking. Which ever direction Glover’s good-natured venom is being spat in, there is a sense of optimism and passion that balances out the comedy and dick jokes in kind of a refined way. No, really.

A lot of what works here is due to the shortened structure. EP’s running time seems to keep Glover more focused, and less inclined to meander ineffectively–which is where Culdesac’s production suffered. The album’s scattered psyche made things a bit manic at times, but in a bad way. EP still finds Glover all over the place stylistically, but everything seems more fleshed out as the brevity lends to its vitality. It’s Donalad Glover taking himself even more serious than before, but keeping his worthwhile charms and finely tuned sense of humor right where they are supposed to be. While it is still unclear if Childish Gambino can turn his most effective talents into a stunning LP, EP is an encouraging step towards such a thing.

Grade: 80%