In the rap world you’re best advised to keep it real, so where does that leave the comic actor? Donald Glover, a former writer for the sitcom 30 Rock who’s most familiar as Troy in the US college comedy Community, doesn’t seem to want to be the next Will Smith, despite his summertime garb at this show. He’s also unlikely to be the next Drake, who has made a smoother transition from actor to big-selling rapper. But his nerdy, wordy, introverted style came to life in concert and the response suggested that he’ll soon be able to leave the day job behind for good.
Despite making a career from pretending, the Californian 30-year-old is actually remarkably honest in his songs. His recent second album, Because the Internet, employs a blurry, unsettled sound beneath rhymes about what it is to be middle-class and black today, where you might be perceived to have made it but are far from a problem-free zone. On The Worst Guys he described his sexual failures. His sing-song style on 3005 disguised lines that were chiefly about feeling frightened and insecure. He has said he woke up screaming sometimes while making Community.
Like R&B star Frank Ocean, whose bleak digital soul Glover’s sound resembled when he slipped into a smooth falsetto, life is beautiful but all is not well. He seemed unhappy with elements of his own music too, skating over songs from his first album – including his catchiest moment, Firefly – in a rapid medley.
But as he led his four-piece band, including a live drummer and more drums for the bassist, energy levels stayed high and the darkness was harder to spot. A freestyle rap included a crowd-pleasing line about “eating crumpet down in London town” – a rare laugh from someone deeply serious about his new line of work.