A Conversation with Childish Gambino: Nostalgia, Bitcoins and Advice from Tina Fey

The album 'Because the Internet' is out Dec. 10

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Childish Gambino performs during the Life is Beautiful festival on Oct. 26, 2013, in Las Vegas

The actor Donald Glover, 30, will appear on only a few episodes of the next season of Community (which starts in January on NBC), but he’s staying busy as his rap alter-ego Childish Gambino. His new album, Because the Internet, drops Dec. 10.

He spoke to TIME for this week’s issue, and an extended version of that conversation is below.

TIME: First of all, your album art for Because the Internet is a GIF. In terms of pronunciation, do you say it with a hard G or a soft?
Childish Gambino: I say GIF like Gregory. Giff.

Do you feel strongly about that?

I mean, Jif is a peanut butter. I feel like it’s only right that GIF should sound different. The other way is confusing.

(MORETrebek Trolls Us All By Making ‘Final Jeopardy’ Question About the Pronunciation of ‘GIF’)

What’s the other half of that “because the internet” sentence?

I was working with Beck, and he asked me a question about whether rappers talk to each other and I started off the answer by saying, ‘I don’t like starting answers with this, but because the Internet…’ and he said, ‘You should name your album that.’ It started as a joke and the more we talked about it the more it was like, it actually makes sense. It’s weird to me that there’s not a similar title [out there already], because the Internet is everything. These words will end up on the Internet, somewhere, somehow. Everything we do is put into information online so I thought it was appropriate for the times.

And it lives there forever.

Yeah, my grandkids will see that.

So how much time do you spend on the Internet every day?

It’s probably easier to answer how much time I don’t spend on the Internet, which would probably be the time when I’m sleeping, so I guess about four hours.

What is that time usually spent doing?

Emailing, checking up on information, getting sent Vines, reading a tweet, any sort of information. The album’s sort of about how I only connect through that really. I mean, how often do you sit down and talk to someone for like two hours? It’s not like a bad thing. I don’t want anybody to think this is an indictment. But I thought it was an interesting thing. People used to talk a lot longer and now it’s, like, if I sit down and talk to someone for two hours and not look at my phone, not only is it like a great feat, like it’s hard to do,  but I’d be probably in trouble. People would be like, ‘Where were you? Were you sick? Did you get in trouble?’ Something would be wrong.

On the song “3005” you say you’re scared of the future. Any futuristic thing in particular?

I’m afraid of the great robot war. It’s coming. You should know that. [laughs] Honestly, I’m not scared of the future at all. I think the future is progress if we treat it right. But I think a lot of other people are afraid. I feel like most people are afraid of the future. If you go on Tumblr you’ll see a lot of nostalgia, a lot of, ‘Remember Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? Remember Sister, Sister? Remember Clarissa?’ It’s a lot of that. I don’t think we want to go forward, because it’s a little scary.

This is the first time ever we can see all our mistakes in front of us. My parents used to be, like, ‘Aw man, look at how we used to dress in the ‘70s.’ Now kids are aware of, ‘OK, this is going to look dumb soon.’ We can see our mistakes in real time. That’s why there’s a lot of retro things. So if you’re like, ‘Oh that looks silly,’ well, this is taken from something that already worked so you’re kind of out of the loop.

Do you consider yourself anti-nostalgia?

To be fair, probably, yeah. I don’t see the point. I like memories. Memories are all we have. That’s why everybody’s afraid to die, honestly. You really won’t know but the thing is memories, people are like, “I’ll miss things, I’ll miss my mom.” It’s the memory of these feelings. And I’m of the mindset that you have to let go of those things. I’m part of a generation that’s pretty special because we remember life before the Internet. I’ve got little cousins who do not. So it’s kind of our job to not be nostalgic and be like, ‘Things were better back then,’ because I don’t think anything works that way. Things always get progressively better.

And we can’t go back to pre-Internet anyway.

Yeah. It’s done. I look at it the same way I look at my album. People are, like, ‘Try not to leak it, make sure.’ I’m, like, no, that’s how music works now. The album will leak. That’s how I know people want it. Trying to charge somebody for the album after it’s leaked is kind of like trying to charge someone for the smell of your bakery, you know? It’s like, these smells are mine — that’s so stupid. This is how it is. We have to be okay with it. Let’s fix those things if there’s something wrong but this is the way the future is. I think a lot of people are afraid of that, in the music industry, in every industry. We should all sit down as a planet and be like, okay, these are the rules now, because of the Internet.

What would the rules be?

We should definitely start looking at currency on the Internet.

Like bitcoins?

Yeah, I know a lot of people are skeptical, but I feel like if everything’s going to live online, why not bitcoins? Being backed by gold seems very old and nostalgic to me. Being backed to a bitcoin, which takes time to actually make and there’s this equation that has to be done, that feels realer to me and makes more sense.

(MORE: A Very Bitcoin Christmas)

I saw that you’re promoting the album with a series of house parties…

I like people to enjoy the moment. I always to invest people in the moment, a moment where they can look back — as much as I don’t want to be nostalgic, I definitely want to give people memories, like ‘That was a good time.’ Because you’re only going to remember a few moments. Unless this becomes some sort of profound interview, we won’t remember this. Most of the things I did yesterday I won’t remember. Or, actually, my life was threatened yesterday, so I will remember that.


We were filming something and this dude was mad.


Yeah. I’ll remember that. But everything else, most of the days, you won’t remember. I’m not a big party-animal but with the album and the live shows, I’d like to create moments people can hold on to.

Do you have any favorite party memories?

I threw a house party when my parents were away when I was like 17 or 18. That was pretty cool. I felt very cool. My girlfriend and I made out in the bathroom. I felt like Ferris Bueller. That was a cool moment. And in the mansion that we rented to record the album in, we used to throw parties every once in and while. That was nuts. We used to make s’mores.

In a fireplace or outside?

There was a fireplace in the middle of the pool.

You may be the only people in the world to have eaten s’mores in a swimming pool.

I never thought about that. You’re probably right. That’s such a weird thing to eat in a pool. It’s not conducive.

(MOREDonald Glover Explains His Absence)

You’ve said you left Community to do other stuff, but that you don’t want to be just a rapper — do you have a long list of specific other things you want to do?

I don’t like to commit to things.

In general?

Yeah, in general. There isn’t like a list of things, like ‘after this I’ll become a tattoo artist.’ I’m not planning those kind of things. I don’t even really look at them like that. I want to become something that when people hear I have a project people will be like, ‘Oh, this should be interesting,’ without hearing the project. There are certain artists, even Salvador Dali or Prince, no matter what, when they’re like ‘I’m making this,’ I’m interested. I don’t ever want to be like “this is a blah who does this.” I want to be an idea. Ideas are the only things that last. Eventually they become businesses but I always want to move on before they become straight business. I’m only interested in ideas because I feel like that’s the only thing that helps us grow as humans.

I only want to do things that help us as a whole, on a big scale, because we can do that now. It used to be, if it was 1857, I can only really help my town, you know, on that level, and I’m never going to meet more people than the 57 people in my town. Now I meet new people every day and I can reach the world every day. I literally touch the world every day, when I tweet or whatever. If it’s a good enough idea I can help everyone, so I only want to make moves [where] I can be living beyond me or going beyond me. I want to create ripple effects that can go past my time here. That’s what I want to do.

That’s quite a goal!

It’s kind of a big lofty idea but why else? I guess you could have a kid, which is pretty much the same thing, you living beyond you, but I don’t want to have a kid just yet. I don’t think I’d be great at it right now.

What other cultural stuff are you paying attention to these days? Have you read any good books lately?

I’ve been reading a lot of philosophy books. Kierkegaard and stuff like that. I’m not against reading, but no one in my crew really reads. We never sit down and have time. That’s the real currency. Everyone’s talking about bitcoins and money and stuff like that, but the real currency is time. Tina Fey told me, ‘The most expensive thing to waste in the world is other people’s time.’ When you control other people’s time, time is the essence of everything. And the reason people want money is so they can have more time. Not even just on a level of like, ‘I can live longer and be healthier,’ just on a level of, ‘I don’t have to run this errand.’

When you’re reading philosophy, do you talk to other people about it or just thinking about it on your own?

I only want to do things where there’s a connection to other people. I feel really lost and weird about a lot of things in culture, because I feel like everybody’s just kind of, ‘You should know this.’ But we’re all in the same position. There are so many unknowns. Stop fighting. No one’s in a better position. I always want to do something that’s going to connect. Otherwise it’s like, why be alive? Why read a book and be like, this is just for me? Why would I make art?

I look at us like all like water droplets. Every drop of water on earth is looking for all the other droplets. They’re all trying to get to the sea. They’re all trying to be the same water. I feel like that’s people. We’re trying to understand each other, whether that’s language or sex or all those things. That’s what separates us from everybody else, we’re the only things that can look at something and see how it hurts somebody to be called a name or something and feel that empathy. That’s what separates us really. I feel like sometimes we lose that because the Internet makes it hard to do that. We have to build that in. Emojis do that. Remember before emojis? You would just text something and people would be like, ‘Were you angry? Were you happy?’

You had to choose between just smile and frown.

Yeah, and that’s what emojis do. They give context. They give a texture to it. They make the Internet more human. The Internet is a living, breathing thing and we are making it as we go. And yes it’s scary, because we’re definitely going to f— up. We have f—ed up. But that’s the only way to make things better. You learn more from the mistakes than from doing everything right. I feel like that. I only want to do things that connect. If I read a book, somebody else has to read the book. We were reading the same books in the mansion when we were there together. We would talk about them at night.
That sounds pretty amazing.

I only want to make albums this way from now on. Any other way, like going to the studio, feels really sad to me. It feels really lonely. I just want to be somewhere figuring it out.

What about music you’ve been listening to?

I’ve been listening to Marvin Gaye’s albums constantly. I’ve been listening to 2 Chainz’ album a lot, the new 2 Chainz. I feel like people are sleeping on that album.

And TV?

I only watch cartoons. Right now it’s China, IL. But Adventure Time, American Dad and Archer — those are the ones I watch constantly. I shot a video the day before yesterday, the video for “3005,” and I was there for 17 hours. And  the next day I had to shoot some stuff for the album and I was out all day. And the only thing I dream about is coming home and watching cartoons. That’s all I want. I know this is TIME magazine and I probably shouldn’t say it, but I get very high and watch cartoons and I feel at peace. You know how it’s going to end and it’s nice. There’s predictability. I feel like we try to do that with everything but that’s what makes us people. That’s what makes us alive. Lewis and Clark had no idea what was going on when they were going across the nation, they had no idea, they were like, ‘I don’t know what we’re going to see, if there’s going to be a bear, if a Native American is going to kill us, I don’t know what’s going to happen — but we’re together.’ That’s the thing we can count on. That’s all I want. I want to move forward together.