There are different forms of reinvention. Reinventing your personal identity or your brand if you are a public figure is the main one. But what we are talking about is reinventing your art. Imagine for a second if Ernest Hemingway after a series of best-selling novels started doodling cartoons for the Saturday paper. Or more in this century, recall all the basketball players who release rap albums that are a bust, both critically and sale-wise. It is near impossible to reinvent yourself and your art especially in an era when the way you enter public consciousness is the way you are remembered. But one man has reinvented himself and his art so many times he has become a master at it. That man is Donald Glover.
He goes on to work as writer, director, and producer of his hit show Atlanta. He adds to his reinvention resume: dramatic acting, as he will be starring in the upcoming Star Wars and Lion King films. Yet it is his latest album, “Awaken, My Love!” that is the definitive reinvention of his career.
In a way the album reinvents him as more than a rapper, as a musician who transcends genre. But more than that, the album reinvents the limits of modern rap. His musical style and thematics changed so much from album to album that it is as if Hunter S. Thompson followed Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas with Dragon Ball Z manga.
Gambino has reinvented himself so much that he is now reinventing his art and in so doing he is impacting the very medium he is using for self-expression and the society that is engaging with this expression. I think at this point, he is not a rapper-comedian, or rapper-actor, or rapper-musician, or writer-director, so much as he is truly an ‘artist’. Moreover, he has made reinvention an art form in its own right. I feel that at this point he is the Prince or the David Bowie of our generation. Specifically when it comes to their endless self-reinventing, the limitlessness of their art, and their impact on a generation. I would even say that he is not really reinventing himself and his art as he is reimagining it. It is as if every album is his take of his own album, but reimagined.
So as he promises to leave music behind after one more album, all I can say is that I honestly have no idea what lies ahead and that is a very very good thing. Because art is supposed to be engaging and exciting, not boring and predictable.