From a creative, commercial, and critical standpoint, it’s very possible that Donald Glover, also known as Childish Gambino, is well within the top five most important artists in pop culture today. On May 5, 2018, Glover released what would become his first Billboard number-one hit song “This Is America” as Childish Gambino, while simultaneously hosting and serving as the musical guest on Saturday Night Live. He’s also been keeping extremely busy as the primary creative force behind Atlanta on the FX network, in addition to somehow still finding the time to star in a number of surefire blockbuster hits including the upcoming Solo: A Star Wars Story.
Wearing as many hats as an artist possibly can, the one thread of consistency connecting all of Glover’s endeavors is that he seems to thrive at absolutely everything he attempts. It may have taken him nearly a decade to truly breakthrough with the mainstream, but those in the know have been well aware of Glover’s prodigious talents for quite some time now. From the very beginning, he’s been the sort of content creator who just refuses to slow down, picking up more and more projects as his fame increases, and it’s about time society at large started to notice.
With Glover’s profile increasing literally every single day, chances are it won’t be long until he’s genuinely a household name. That time has just begun, though, meaning there are plenty of new arrivals to the scene desperate to know more about this creatively genius polymath slowly taking over the entertainment world. Keep reading to learn 20 things about Donald Glover every true Childish Gambino fan needs to know.
20 His Parents Adopted Multiple Foster Children
Given how quickly his star power is exploding, there’s a good chance Donald Glover is finding himself surrounded by a whole lot of friends and business partners as of late. Luckily, he’s at least prepared for the chaos, having grown up in an extremely large, diverse family. Technically, his nuclear family only consisted of the typical father and mother, Donald, Sr. and Beverly, plus one brother, Stephen, and sister, Bree.
There was much more to it than that, however, as his parents regularly cared for a constantly rotating number of foster children during Donald’s childhood.
Devout Jehovah’s Witnesses, it seems the Glovers' daycare business spurned out of genuine charity, as they would often care for children who had been abused, lost their parents, or were otherwise disadvantaged. Sadly, some of the foster siblings were also very sick, and not all would make it to adulthood, a reality Donald still looks back on as a family tragedy. The full number of children the Glovers' took in at this time is unclear, aside from the fact at least two of them were permanently adopted. Donald has spoken about how his gigantic rotating family affected his life in many memorable stand-up routines, always to hilarious effect. Outside of comedy, this upbringing definitely contributed to Donald’s outlook on life and the world around him.
19 Derrick Comedy Paved The Way
Before all the bright lights, flashing cameras, and walls of awards, Donald Glover was just an aspiring writer attending New York University and dreaming big. His ultimate goal was to write for a TV show, but before he could do that, Glover decided to hone his comedy chops in a number of improv and sketch comedy groups. Initially, he was an early member of the group Hammerkatz, which still exists at NYU today. From there, he and fellow members DC Pierson and Dominic Dierkes branched off to form Derrick Comedy, soon bringing all three their first taste of viral fame. One sketch about the growing “bro” culture earned over 10 million views on YouTube, and the Derrick Comedy channel netted over 100 million hits in total.
After firmly cementing their status as Internet sensations, Derrick Comedy also lead to Donald’s first starring role in a film with the group-penned Mystery Team.
Also featuring future stars Aubrey Plaza, Ellie Kemper, and Bobby Moynihan, the film was only a modest success at best, yet it nonetheless predicted the fame each of these performers would later achieve. The other members of Derrick Comedy haven’t done too bad for themselves, either. Dierkes has appeared in shows like Parks and Recreation and Glover’s Community, while Pierson has found fame in the literary world as the author of two novels.
18 Stand-Up Gave Him His Comedic Voice
Ironically, the more Donald Glover’s fame increases, the more likely some people are to pigeonhole him into just one of his artistic endeavors. People who learn about Childish Gambino first might call him that rapper who happens to act, while fans of Atlanta or Community might view him as the guy from TV who happens to record music.
Those who heard of Glover earliest may still think of him as that fresh-faced stand-up comedian who went on to seriously big things.
After years of performing small shows as a student and while his writing career began, Glover’s first showcase as a comic appropriately came with a half hour Comedy Central Presents special. Just about two years later, Comedy Central gave Glover twice as much time with the hour-long special Weirdo. Aside from rare live performances, appearances at festivals, and his Saturday Night Live monologue, Glover has largely given stand-up a rest to focus on his always expanding outside endeavors. At this point, it’s unclear if Glover will ever return to stand-up, let alone if he would even have the time. Past comedians like Steve Martin, Eddie Murphy, and even the manic Robin Williams likewise slowed down their touring schedule as their careers took off. That said, Williams at least inevitably made a comeback, so Glover may return to stand-up one day, as well.
17 He Completely Disowned His First Album
Considering his charisma, it would have been possible for Donald Glover to become a star simply by appearing in hilarious sitcoms. However, it quickly became clear comedy wasn’t enough for him, with a side passion taking up much of his creative thought since his early days at New York University. In addition to predicting his writing career with various sketch groups, Glover’s little spare time was spent self-producing a handful of early records. Quite frankly, it could be said Glover had yet to find his voice during this period, and the man himself seems to agree. In fact, he has since completely disowned his first album, The Younger I Get, derisively referring to it as “decrepit Drake.”
Because of Glover’s own negativity toward his work, it’s almost impossible to hear The Younger I Get now that his career has exploded.
However, there are two other early albums, called Sick Boi and Poindexter, both of which later surfaced online. Glover still hadn’t fully realized his talents at this point, as the albums were sparsely produced and rapped in an intentionally high-pitched voice. It seemed like Glover wasn’t even entirely sold on the Childish Gambino name yet, also referring to himself as Bambino and Bambino X in some of the lyrics. Nonetheless, it was all confirmation he was serious about his rap career.
16 Tina Fey Got Him His First TV Job
Everyone has to start somewhere, and believe it or not, most people who star in YouTube videos don’t end up with their own series on FX. Obviously, there was one more huge step needed for Glover to transition from a talented kid to part of the true entertainment industry, and he took it when Tina Fey hired him to write for 30 Rock. While only the credited co-writer of two episodes, Glover’s presence made a huge impact on the show, specifically when it came to one character in particular. Despite expectations, Glover wasn’t writing for Tracy Jordan, but rather the plucky page Kenneth, who happened to share his hometown.
It actually makes perfect sense Glover would write for Kenneth, considering they had a lot in common. Speaker to The New Yorker, Glover called himself “a wide-eyed kid, eager to please,” which definitely describes Kenneth’s optimism and exuberance, as well.
In addition to writing, he also made a handful of appearances as minor characters. Glover would later credit Tina Fey for helping him develop as an artist, telling Entertainment Weekly she “taught me how to write, but also about the politics of television.” The only downside was Glover often worried he got hired solely because of his minority status, and Fey later confirmed that NBC’s Diversity Initiative indeed affected the decision.
15 Later Mixtapes Proved He Was More Than Just A Rapper
While Donald Glover’s first album was apparently so weak he doesn’t want anyone hearing it, the man only needed a few years to hone his skills enough that he could make some respectable music. The early NYU stuff is a mixed bag, but things started getting pretty good in 2010, when he released three mixtapes in a single year while also starring on Community. By this point, he had also firmly decided Childish Gambino would be the stage name used for all future music. The first two tapes titled I Am Just A Rapper and I Am Just A Rapper 2, featured Gambino rapping original songs over popular indie-rock beats, already a sharp contrast that defined his multifaceted style.
The third tape, Culdesac, was arguably his first true artistic statement, blending all of his influences into a solidified whole. Shortly thereafter, he was signed to Glassnote records, leading to an untitled EP, featuring Childish Gambino’s first viral video hit, “Freaks and Geeks.”
Already, Gambino’s incredible wordplay, emotional lyrics, and the sterling production of his friend Ludwig Göransson was signifying that he had plenty to give the musical world. Next up were three full-length commercial albums, Camp, Because The Internet, and "Awaken, My Love!", all bringing him greater fame. In 2018, he switched to the major label RCA Records, with a fourth album already announced.
14 He Auditioned To Play Obama On SNL
Before Donald Glover’s first stint hosting Saturday Night Live was even over, fans were already calling his performance one for the books. Believe it or not, Glover has actually been trying to appear on the show for quite some time now, starting with not one, but two auditions almost a full decade ago. Unfortunately, no matter how “right” for SNL a person seems, they don’t always make it. That said, this was especially surprising in Glover’s case, considering his tryout came at a time when the show lacked in minority performers.
During the Presidency of Barack Obama, racial representation was basically a requirement, with politics typically SNL’s favorite topic. Glover also had his connection with Tina Fey, who many assume still had great influence over the show. For whatever reason, though, SNL decided to go with Fred Armisen as their Obama and pass on Glover entirely. Rumor has it Jordan Peele, who later played President Obama in a number of popular sketches on his own show, Key & Peele, was also turned down in favor of Armisen. Nothing against the Portlandia star, but it would have been interesting to see what Glover could bring to the role. On the other hand, it may have made him too busy for Community, so maybe things worked out for the best.
13 He Helped With An Early Draft Of Black Panther
Such is the nature of Donald Glover’s current reach in the entertainment world that he’s able to influence and cater appreciation from movies with which he’s barely involved. Case in point, eagle-eyed viewers noticed both Donald and his brother Stephen Glover earned “special thanks” in the credits to the blockbuster film Black Panther. No, there weren’t any Childish Gambino songs on the extremely successful soundtrack, though his friend and producer Ludwig Göransson did happen to provide the score (and co-write the song “Opps”). Glover and his brother provided a much different role, however, instead becoming slightly involved in the writing process.
Unlike most projects he plays a hand in, Donald’s part in the Black Panther process was extremely minimal, and in fact, he only spent a single day working on the film. Luckily, that was all his friend director Ryan Coogler needed them for, as the Glovers quickly managed to read the script and offer their notes.
Specifically, they helped Coogler flesh out the relationship between T’Challa and his sister Shuri, noting they were looking for a playful comedic sensibility the two were able to provide. According to Coogler, the Glovers were brought in because they were two of the funniest people he knew, and indeed, their little touches turned T’Challa and Shuri into a winning pair.
12 His Emmy Wins Made History
Since the start of his career, Donald Glover has aspired for a creative freedom he finally seems to have achieved with his FX series Atlanta. At last given the chance to see his vision without network interference, Glover immediately revealed just how good he could be, crafting a series he describes as “Twin Peaks with rappers.” Weirdly brilliant, emotional, and often hilarious, Glover has earned nearly universal acclaim for his acting, writing, directing, and the show in general. In 2016, he won the Golden Globes for Best Comedy Actor and Best Comedy Series, followed by an additional two Emmys for Outstanding Lead Actor and Outstanding Director, all in the comedy category.
Joking about his success, Glover later told The New Yorker, “a lot of [season two] is me proving to people that I didn’t get those Emmys just because of affirmative action.”
Funny as that is, it’s not unreasonable he would need to explain this — Glover was the very first Black director to win an Emmy for a comedy. Coincidentally, the one episode of Atlanta that Glover doesn’t appear in is the one for which he won the award, featuring Paper Boi as a panelist on a talk show. It’s truly a testament to his talent how Glover can show his skills whether he’s on screen or not.
11 He Helped Inspire A New Spider-Man
Surprising as it was to see Donald Glover’s name in the credits to Black Panther, he had remarkably little to do with the film in the grand scheme of things. Ultimately, the same is true of his influence over the Spider-Man universe, yet the small role he played turned out to be a game changer. In fact, were it not for Glover, a new comic book sensation may never have been created. It all began when Glover himself attempted to kick start a Twitter campaign named #Donald4Spiderman, the goal being to get him an audition for the lead role in The Amazing Spider-Man reboot.
Despite Glover getting the approval of character creator Stan Lee, the role ultimately went to Andrew Garfield, without Donald even receiving an audition.
While the film world wasn’t interested yet, there were apparently plenty of comic book writers who were, including Brian Michael Bendis. Realizing the idea of a Black Spider-Man sounded pretty cool, Bendis created Miles Morales, now an extremely popular character in his own right. Glover may not have been lucky enough to play Peter Parker in a blockbuster film, but he did show up in Spider-Man: Homecoming as Aaron Davis. He also got to play Morales in two episodes of Ultimate Spider-Man on Disney XD, bringing the character full circle back to the man on whom it was based.
10 His Interesting High School Yearbook Superlative
Nine times out of ten, the random title high school seniors bequeath their classmates in the yearbook only make sense to the people who pick them. That doesn’t mean people aren’t interested in learning what celebrity’s schoolyard chums thought about them, and apparently, Donald Glover’s young buddies were actually pretty on point. The only catch is that they were a little bit off on the specifics. To clarify, upon graduation, Glover was named “Most Likely to Write For The Simpsons.” This was actually a bit ironic, considering his strict Jehovah’s Witness parents actually banned him and his siblings from watching the show for a very long time.
Never one to accept “no” for an answer, Glover found a suitably creative (and decidedly '90s) way around the problem. Without his parents knowing, Donald would quietly record episodes with his Talkboy, later listening to the audio with his brother Stephen.
Donald in particular was such a big fan that he almost made good on his classmates’ prediction, writing a spec script for The Simpsons that he later showed Tina Fey as part of his 30 Rock audition. Apparently, the episode revolved around Homer getting sued after illegally downloading a Hall & Oates song from the Internet. Glover also wrote a spec script for Everybody Hates Chris around the same time.
9 He Left Community For Personal Reasons
If not through his music, chances are most people had their first exposure to Donald Glover through the NBC cult hit sitcom Community. A mere six days after he quit writing for 30 Rock, Glover was hired to play former jock turned hopeless collegiate goofball Troy Barnes. Early episodes slightly painted Troy as somewhat rude, only for Glover’s boundless charisma to gradually turn him into an extremely likeable, well-rounded young man simply looking to find his place in the world. Eventually, Troy found what he was looking for, receiving a huge inheritance and setting off on the Childish Tycoon to live life free of the study group.
Despite a popular misconception that Glover left the show to work on his music career, Troy Barnes leaving Greendale Community College had much more to do with his personal and creative integrity. On the one hand, he just appreciates endings and finality, perhaps wanting Troy to walk off into the sunset rather than stick around for too long. He was also going through many emotional issues at the time, as outlined to fans in a series of hand-written notes posted to Instagram explaining his decision. Whatever the reason, Glover has always remained positive about his experiences on the show and the growth it allowed him as a performer.
8 The Name Childish Gambino Came Straight From The 36 Chambers
Initially, releasing music as Childish Gambino while acting and writing as Donald Glover was a way for the multi-hyphenate performer to separate some of his titles into separate personas. Perhaps it’s for this reason he didn’t put all that much thought into choosing his stage name — not to say his moniker’s origin story isn’t awesome in both it’s simplicity and method of execution. Rather than labor over his identity for years like he would later do as his fame increased, Glover just went to the Internet, found a “Wu-Tang Clan Name Generator,” and accepted the results on their face value. To this day, that Name Generator is available online, and indeed, if you type in “Donald Glover,” your result will still be “Childish Gambino.” At least one member of the actual Wu-Tang Clan has expressed their approval, with the RZA telling Pigeons & Planes,
While he didn’t comment on the Gambino name specifically, this kind of praise is hard to misinterpret. Even so, when later speaking about his choice, Glover joked during a roundtable discussion filmed by The Hollywood Reporter, “if I had known it would be something for real, I wouldn’t have used it.”
7 He Almost Made A Deadpool Cartoon
With the unbridled success of Atlanta, it’s only natural that FX, and any of Donald Glover’s collaborators, would want to continue their working arrangement. Originally, it was widely reported that the network planned to do this through a number of side projects and potential second, third, and even fourth shows, but at this point, the fate of their agreement is unclear. The snag came after the announcement and then cancelation of series number two, which would have been a cartoon about Marvel’s sarcastic superhero Deadpool.
At first, media outlets assumed Glover was too busy with Atlanta and his musical career to pursue these outside projects, yet the man himself later confirmed this was definitely not the case. It didn’t have anything to do with oversaturation of the market after two blockbuster films starring Ryan Reynolds, either. Instead, both Donald and Stephen Glover have hinted on Twitter the real breaking point was an episode they wrote including jokes about pop singer Taylor Swift. The exact contents of the episode or the nature of the jokes are unclear, though it apparently pushed the envelope far enough that Marvel and FX were no longer interested. Responding to the cancelation, Glover posted a 15-page spec script on Twitter containing a handful of scathing jokes about Marvel, suggesting the ship of reconciliation may have sailed.
6 He Has Always Been A Huge Fan of Star Wars
Whenever an actor gets a role in a continuation of an extremely popular franchise, they’re bound to give a few token words about how they’ve “always been a big fan.” This was definitely the case when Donald Glover got hired for his next huge movie role, playing a young version of the intergalactic gambler Lando Calrissian in the prequel Solo: A Star Wars Story. To Glover, this is akin to getting a part in the Bible, later telling The Hollywood Reporter in respect to the Star Wars series, “I grew up on it. It’s the first toy I ever had.” On top of being a big Star Wars fan in general, it would appear Lando Calrissian in particular was Donald’s favorite character. During a recent press conference promoting the film, he admitted,
Like most things Donald wants, all he had to do was make his desire known, and it wasn’t long before he was headed to a galaxy far, far away. Early response to Glover’s performance has been glowingly positive, with Lando’s original actor, Billy Dee Williams, expressing his tacit approval. For Glover, that was all he needed to hear to know he did well.
5 “This Is America” Gave Him His First Number-One Hit
Less than two weeks after its release, Childish Gambino’s latest song “This Is America” has already amassed nearly 140 million hits on YouTube and instantly gave Donald Glover his first number-one hit single. Based on this success, all three of his previous albums also shot back onto the Billboard charts, with sales reportedly increasing by 419%. This could be the first time in history an actor had a number one hit song the same calendar year they won an Emmy for their performance, which Glover did through Atlanta. In fact, it’s been decades since anyone with a TV show had a true hit single at all.
Of course, Glover’s acting performance and writing chops played a huge role in what made the song so popular, because this is one track where the video is as important, or more so, than the music and lyrics.
Already, hundreds of pages have been written about it’s deeper meaning and themes on the Internet, and people have only begun to understand Glover’s full message. In four short minutes, Glover presents his version of the song’s title, intermittently performing a jagged dance and presenting political statements about race, religion, and violent culture. This is America through Donald Glover’s lens, and it looks like a lot of people see things the same way.
4 His Younger Brother Writes For Atlanta
Anyone who's seen Atlanta knows it’s an extremely personal show, closely connected to Donald Glover’s own life and upbringing near the titular city. It could also be considered a “family show,” not in terms of the audience attracts, but because it details the life of a young man, his girlfriend, daughter, and cousin. His parents also play a pretty big role, and a weird uncle who owns an alligator is unforgettable. Of course, Donald doesn’t come up with all of this on his own, hiring a full writers room of similarly-minded creative types, including his brother, Stephen Glover. Outside of the family connection, the Atlanta writers' room instantly attracted attention for the fact it was all Black writers, a huge rarity for television. Progressive as this seems, during an interview with Wired, Glover stated,
It makes sense that black writers would share Glover’s sensibilities in this way given the show’s content. More than that, odds are no one understands his own personal experiences better than the younger brother that lived large portions of it by his side. Stephen has also appeared on a handful of Gambino songs under the name Steve G. Lover III.
3 He Has Two Children With His Girlfriend
Young, rich, and successful, there may be some potential suitors out there wondering about Donald Glover’s relationship status, and we regret to inform you that he’s been in a committed relationship for at least three years now. Despite Glover’s profile, his girlfriend has largely managed to stay out of the spotlight, such to the extent media sources have yet to even uncover her surname. All the public knows is that her first name is Michelle and that they already have two sons. The eldest, named Legend, was born in 2016, while their second son was welcomed in early 2018. Matching his mother’s secrecy, Glover hasn’t shared the youngster’s name. Surprisingly, bringing two young children into this world has barely affected Glover’s life, or so he says. Speaking to E!, Glover explained,
Even so, Legend and Michelle have clearly made a serious impact on Glover’s life, as they get thanked each time he wins one of his many awards. They’ve also inspired at least two songs thus far in “Me and Your Mama” and “Baby Boy.” However, Glover also told The New Yorker he’s “not the marrying kind,” so don’t expect wedding bells in their future.
2 He Plans To Retire Childish Gambino In The Near Future
Reading through this list, it probably looks like Donald Glover, Childish Gambino, whatever he calls himself, is truly on top of the world. The last thing anyone expects from a man at his commercial and creative peak is for him to pack it all up and try something new, but that’s exactly what Glover has said he plans to do with his music career in the near future. Shortly after signing with major label RCA Records, Glover announced his next album would be his last. After the subsequent farewell tour, he also plans to retire the Childish Gambino persona altogether, focusing on his acting, directing, writing, and whatever else may strike him as interesting. Considering Glover made this announcement before winning a Grammy for “Redbone,” not to mention earning his first number one hit single with “This Is America,” it was understandable some fans might hope he changed his mind. Unfortunately, it was during a post-Grammy press conference he confirmed his decision, noting,
This same mindset caused him to leave 30 Rock and then Community, so it really shouldn’t be all that surprising to his long-term fans. Even so, it’s very disappointing news, and people looking to see him live should probably start looking into his “This Is America” tour very soon.
1 Everything The Light Touches Is About To Be His Kingdom
Impressive as it all looks, everything mentioned on this list is truly just the beginning for Donald Glover. After redefining Lando Calrissian, inspiring a new Spider-Man, and revolutionizing both television and music, the sky is the limit for what he can achieve in any medium he so chooses. His next big movie role has already been announced, and it could well be his biggest yet.
Production is well underway on a live-action CGI remake of Disney’s legendary The Lion King, with Glover taking up the lead role of adult Simba, originally voiced by Matthew Broderick.
In addition to Glover, the film is already jam-packed with stars, including Beyoncé playing the role of Simba’s love interest, Nala. James Earl Jones will reprise his role as Mufasa, while Chiwetel Ejofor, Seth Rogen, John Oliver, Eric Andre, Keegan-Michael Key will all provide voices for minor characters. Elton John and Hans Zimmer will also be on board to help update the film’s classic songs and score, respectively. Leading the project is director Jon Favreau, who previously found incredible fame through this basic formula with his 2016 take on The Jungle Book. Only time will tell how big the movie becomes or what comes next for Glover, but it’s hard to imagine he’ll be slowing down any time soon.
References: Comicbook.com, The New Yorker, Collider, Complex, Entertainment Weekly, USA Today, Gizmodo, Billboard, E! Online, Village Voice, Variety, Pigeons and Planes, The New York Times, Wired, The Hollywood Reporter, Vanity Fair