Donald Glover spends his days on a farm, doing a million things at once.
Not long ago, he purchased a big plot of land in Ojai, California, and turned it into the home base of his new creative studio Gilga. On that farm, you’ll find things like a recording studio, writers rooms, and…cows. (More on the cows later.)
At 40 years old, Glover has set his life up so each new creative whim (and there are a lot of them) can easily flow from one medium to the next. Lately, he’s been interested in making music that’s “naturally functional,” and whether he’s producing Malia Obama’s first short film or growing fruit on his farm, he’s only interested in making high-quality things that he wished were in the world.
“I got bored with people saying, like, ‘This world is shit,’” Glover tells Complex. So he took it upon himself to figure out new ways to improve the world. It’s part of the reason why he doesn’t completely dismiss new technology like artificial intelligence. While he concedes that it’s wise to be cautious about AI, he wonders if we can also use the technology to do useful things in more efficient ways. Glover understands that his views on this specific topic might differ from the norm, so he adds, “I honestly have faith in humanity more than I think most people do.”
You may have expected Glover to slow down and take a breather after his hit TV show Atlanta came to an end last year, but he’s busier than ever out on his farm these days. That concept sits at the core of his new Bose campaign, featuring a self-concepted 60-second spot that debuted today. Glover walks around his creative studio with Bose's new headphones on his head, designing roller coasters, harvesting cow's milk, and inventing things. The campaign is based on the idea that the power of sound is at the core of all of Glover’s endeavors. And when you talk to him, you’ll realize there’s another throughline: he’s equally enthusiastic (and ambitious) about everything he’s doing right now, from the music to the cow’s milk.
In conversation, Glover comes across as a guy who is very in tune with his fortunate position in life, and he's committed to doing what he can to make the world a better place to live. If you’re hoping that means he’ll return to making new music as Childish Gambino for fans, you might not have to wait much longer for an update. (“It'll be clear sooner rather than later,” he hints.)
On a Sunday afternoon at the beginning of October, Donald Glover caught up with Complex to discuss his Bose campaign, the current state of his career, what his cows are teaching him about life, and more. The interview, lightly edited for clarity, is below.
Happy belated birthday. How's life?
It's pretty good. Birthday was great. I got a little rest before I had to come back in, but everything's been great. How's your life?
Great. I'm sitting here in Brooklyn with my dog. I can't complain. I just watched your Bose spot where you're running around on your farm, doing all these wildly ambitious things. How similar is that to your real life right now?
It kind of pales in comparison to my real life, honestly. [Laughs.] Sometimes I'm like, "Oh, this is too much." But then I'll read books on magnates and stuff like that, and I'm like, "No, it's kind of right up there." I'm actually lucky because I'm living in a time that's technologically allowing me to do all this stuff at a much faster pace. But a lot of it is scary because you just have to go with your gut as opposed to doing a ton of research, even though that research is available. It's frustrating. You know, too much information is almost like having no information. Oblivion and eternity are the same thing, you know?
You’ve been out there on the farm for a while. Has that environment changed your mindset at all? Has it changed the way you look at the world?
Yeah, it's definitely had an effect. You become more in tune when things are different. You're able to notice patterns. We had a thing with our cows where I was like, "They're mooing a lot." And I didn't realize until I went down there that the baby was in heat. I guess it was her first heat cycle and there was a bull in there. So we had to separate them. And I was like, oh, the only reason I noticed that is because I heard they were mooing more than usual. What I realized being out there is that it's garnered a sense of balance that I wasn't able to get in bigger cities. I mean, I love my bigger cities. I love New York. I love L.A. I love these cities. But sometimes it's more manageable out here.
The Bose spot features "35.31" from your last album 3.15.20. Why did you want to include that song in there?
That one felt the most like a farm. Sometimes in the studio I'll be like, "Man, this shit sounds like a henhouse." I like that kind of feeling. And that's my kids' favorite song of mine. So it felt appropriate.
There's been a lot of discussion about how that album went underappreciated because it didn't have a traditional album cover or titles. Why did you take that approach? And do you think it affected the response to the actual music?
Yeah, I took that approach because I guess that's what I was going through. People are always going to want what they want, but I have to express what I'm going through. I had just lost my father, I had just had a kid, and I was going through a lot. I was having a lot of different new experiences and that's what I expressed.
I think people are right. It would have garnered a different [response]. My wife's always been like, "If you do punk things, you get punk results." And it was definitely a punk thing. I know this sounds lame, like back-talking about it, but I like that about certain things. Like, people don't know that Prince has a Batman album. [Laughs.] This is Prince, and he did a whole album for the first Batman and a lot of people don't even know that. That's cool to me. I secretly love that when you go on Spotify, it doesn't even come up in major albums. A kid who is just getting into me is able to log on and be like, "Wait, there's a whole album in here," and I think that's kind of fun. But, you know, I was also just kind of going through something. It kind of felt like my relationship with my dad was not finished, so... Yeah.
This new chapter of your career involves a lot of different things you're doing with Gilga. What defines this new chapter for you? What's your mindset like?
I would define it as a new world. I got bored with people saying, like, "This world is shit." It's kind of like when people say, "Oh, this traffic is so bad." I'm like, "You are traffic." You can't sit there and be like, "Oh man, the traffic was horrible. I'm sorry, I was late." You are traffic. You're in it. Without you, there would be no traffic. So if you're sitting here being like, "The world is shit," it's like, you are the world. You have to take that responsibility. So I focused on making sure that everything I'm making is shit that I wish was in the world.
What kind of music are you having the most fun making right now? What kinds of things are exciting you the most in the studio?
I like it when something is naturally functional. I used to try and be like, "Oh, this is just a good song and I like it." But now I think functionality is key. Because it's so easy to make a bunch of stuff. And I think back in the day, it was a lot easier to be like, "I made this!" And it was harder to make stuff, so people would be like, "Oh, this chair, you can't really sit in it. But otherwise, people wouldn't have made this chair." It's kind of like art, where it became, like, "Yeah, this is a pointless piece, which is the point." And now I feel like, because it's so much easier to make everything, when something is actually truly functional and it's easy to get to, I love that. I love it when we make something and I'm like, "Oh, I know exactly what this is for. This is for Monday Night Football." [Laughs.] You know, that kind of thing. Like, "This is for this kind of Instagram post." I like all that shit.
At one point, you were playing with the idea of ending your work as Childish Gambino, and then it seemed like you reconsidered it and there might be new Gambino music on the way. Can you give any clarity on that?
I feel like it'll be clear sooner rather than later. It'd be better for people to just tune in, I suppose. But I'm trying harder to not be cryptic. Tyler is always, like, "You're so cryptic." But I'm like, "I'm really not." I just like suspense, I guess. I think it makes stuff better. But that's just me.
So is there music coming somewhat soon?
You'll see. [Laughs.] You'll see. I know that's cryptic, but I swear to God... You know, I don't do this shit for money and shit. There's a famous Cam'ron clip that me and my brother love. Cam is on the radio talking to Mase or somebody, and he says, "Man, I do this because I'm nice. I don't need the money. I do this because I'm nice, man." And I'm like, yeah, I do this because I'm nice. I don't think I'd ever stop, because of like… I always liked it because I liked it. I never did it because it was like, man, this is a good way to get put on or something. I like the feeling of it. I do this because I’m nice. In a certain way, I think that makes me old school.
What's the last new rap song or new artist you heard that blew you away and inspired you?
I listen to Cleo Sol a lot. I really, really love Mother and she just put out two albums in the past like two weeks or something. And I think they're both amazing. I just love her. I really like the Lil Yachty and J. Cole song [“The Secret Recipe”] that just came out. I was very impressed, and it was just some enjoyable shit.
How tapped in are you to current music? I feel like there's a lot of talk about how hip-hop sales are down this year, but I look around and see lots of exciting new stuff. I see Sexyy Red and Ice Spice and all the women in rap killing it right now, which is exciting. How are you feeling about hip-hop currently?
It's funny, asking someone, "Are you tapped in?" Because who's gonna be like, "Nah, I don't know what's going on." [Laughs.] I think I'm as tapped in as I can be. [I like] when something feels new to me. That's what really happens. You get washed and old when shit just sounds the same to you because you've heard so much. You know, I think the women are killing it because they have narratives. I feel like a lot of the guys, it's harder to have interesting new narratives now. Also, I feel like, in general... I don't want to say "rap is dead," it's just, it's not able to grow the way it was growing before. It's just not able to. It's a very different time. Who's making it and why they're making it is very different, too.
And, you know, I hear Sexyy Red. I hear Ice Spice. I hear Tokischa. I hear all these artists, and I'm like, this is all good shit. And it goes back to… The audience decides what the functionality of it is. And sometimes that is just to feel good. Also, people want something fresh, but people want it fast, which sometimes just doesn't happen.
You're someone who has always embraced technology, but you've also been cautious about it. So I'm curious how you feel about the rise of artificial intelligence, especially in entertainment and art?
I think there's a good reason to be cautious. But at the same time, the scary stuff sells and people aren't focusing on how AI can actually help us solve these problems that we have. I get it. It is scary on some level. But I'm like, you could band together and do something really cool with it. Like, something really new. And you can do all that stuff faster. You know, AI's not gonna take your job, the person who's really good at AI is gonna take your job. All these things come with cautionary stuff and I think there should be legislation, although I doubt that will happen. Usually it's in reaction and I think what's scary to people is that we're heading toward the precipice of an existential crisis, where we only get one chance to do it the right way. I think that's what people are afraid of.
But before that happens, there's a lot of stuff where it's like, "Well, how about we just aim it toward things that we actually want?" As opposed to things that we don't need and things that just seem like a fun idea. But I actually am a big proponent of, like... People are gonna be using this stuff, and people should be using this stuff, and it's gonna figure itself out. I honestly have faith in humanity more than I think most people do.
Do you think there are a lot of misconceptions about you? What do people get wrong?
Oh, there's tons of stuff that people get wrong about me. [Laughs.] There's so much of it. I appreciate you even asking that, but honestly, I'm fine. I'm very blessed to have a close group of people who want to know me and love me.
And I just don't believe that it's important for me to make all that stuff true. Because the stuff is out there. And if you want to believe the opposite of it, it's out there, too. That's the down part of information. People are going to gravitate toward the thing that they want to believe, deep down.
It's funny, I said this in an interview a while ago that didn't get much play because of the spicier stuff in it. But I was like, "There’s good takes, there’s bad takes, but most of them are just untrustworthy takes." You can't trust all that stuff anymore. So, rather than people trying to clear their names... I actually take it as a challenge and be like, "Yeah, but what I made was hot, though." [Laughs.] I feel like that's what's missing to me. I'm like, who cares if someone says you're this or that? People need to do that. That's a part of people. What matters is like, "Yeah, what did you make, though?" Did it resonate? Do people have to use it? Do people have to teach about it? Because it was that good and it did the thing that it was supposed to.
I think everything that's played a role in our everyday life is like that, whether it be an iPhone or fuckin' water. It doesn't matter. What matters is how functional and how good the thing is. Not to get stoic on us, but I'm like, "Yeah, all this stuff is gonna be gone soon. In universal terms, it's gonna be gone soon anyway. So you should just be doing the thing." I meditate hard on just being like... That shit doesn't matter. It just doesn't.
"Shmadonka." That was his whole answer.
"Shmadonka." That’s a cool answer. The meaning of life? I mean, if we want to make it simple—and I know this sounds super lame—the meaning of life is to love.
I'm like, man, I wish there was an even better thing [to say]. [Laughs.] But it truly is the process of caring for something in the midst of knowing it too shall pass. Like, it's very weird to have children and know that you're kind of damning them to death. That's what's crazy about it. But you're doing that—you're taking care anyway. And by dying yourself, you're showing them how to die. So it's really just to love things and take care of things, and that will keep the process going.
Man, I feel like I'm being down on a Sunday. I swear to God, I'm a happy person. [Laughs.] But I think this stuff always makes me happy in a way, because I feel like there's something actually really deep happening and the stakes are high. I think that's why I kinda talk like that.