Over the last decade, Donald Glover has become one of the defining artists in contemporary entertainment. With his work in television, stand-up, film, and music, no one can deny his impact on the culture.
In the next year, Glover will release season 2 of the critically-acclaimed series Atlanta, star in Solo: A Star Wars Story as Lando Calrissian, play Simba in Lion King alongside Beyonce, and maybe bring back his Childish Gambino moniker. He’s one of the most important artists we have.
With all that said, he isn’t Tupac.
In a (very fire) profile by Esquire’s Bijan Stephen, Glover claimed that he is the “new Tupac.” He told Stephen:
“I know everybody likens themselves to Tupac a lot. I am the new Tupac in a strange way. I grew up similar. I didn’t have a mom in the Black Panthers, but my parents were very pro-black. Also, my mom made me go to performing-arts high school. She was like, ‘That’s where you need to be.’ Sometimes you have to play a role for people to understand you, even though you’re far more complex than any of that. Sometimes it’s really hard to simplify that so people can eat it.”
Ok so, like I said, Donald Glover is one of the best artists of our generation, but this comparison is questionable to say the least. Glover’s claim is mostly based on their upbringing, that Glover and Shakur were both raised in pro-Black environments and attended performing-arts schools.
While the Tupac correlation may be a stretch, I do find the second part of his comparison to be pretty revelatory about the relationship Glover has to his audience and art. For artists coming from the margins, sometimes you have to package your work in a specific way for the masses to be able to digest it.
Atlanta, despite its wide acclaim, is a pretty damn subversive and unorthodox show. Glover communicates his ideas of Blackness, relationships, and just plain ol’ existence in a way that honors his complexity, but still resonates with audiences, perhaps because of its inherent authenticity.
One excerpt from Glover’s interview does remind me of Pac’s ethos. While articulating the effect he wants to have on audiences, Glover recalled one of the first films, a Lumière brothers work that showed a train coming towards the audience:
“I always think about how the train came at the screen, one of the first moving images, and the audience jumped out of the way. The audience didn’t know what it was. I’m like, ‘How do you do that again? How do you make people jump out of the way because they thought it was that real?'”
In trying to get the audience to jump out of the way of his art, Glover is indeed similar to Tupac. Whether he’s the new Pac, I mean, let’s just leave that label entirely untouched.