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Over the last twenty years, we've seen a number of multi-talented artists win big in Hollywood. Names like Ice Cube, Jennifer Lopez, and Will Smith have shown that you can successfully jump from the world of music into the world of acting and become bonafide stars. Comedians like Chris Rock, Larry David, and Louis C.K. have also shown that there's a tried-and-true lane for dynamic comedians to shift into writing, acting, and producing gigs. None of them have done it quite like Donald Glover has, dominating the worlds of Hollywood and music in wholly unique way, gaining bigger wins each time out. This all begs the question: have we ever seen an all-encompassing pop culture wave quite like Donald Glover's?
For a little over a decade, Glover has been attached to a number of certified movements in Hollywood. He got his start as a writer on Tina Fey's hilarious NBC series 30 Rock, holding down the writer's room from 2006 to 2009. Somewhere in this time he plugged his name into the Wu-Tang Clan Name Generator, and out popped Childish Gambino; the newly-coined rapper dropped his first release, Sick Boi, in 2008. This was all happening while he was working on Mystery Team, a feature-length movie from the sketch comedy group Derrick Comedy, who Glover had been working with since 2006; Glover not only starred in and helped write Mystery Team, but he created music for it as well. Essentially, Donald Glover was building the foundation for the chokehold on culture the actor now has.
One of Glover's more unique traits has truly been his ability to march to the beat of his own drum, even if that meant leaving Community after the fifth episode of its fifth season in 2013. On the show since September of 2009, Glover had seen the fruits of his labor manifest over the four years he spent on the show. His first stand-up special on Comedy Central aired in March of 2010, and by the summer of 2010, the #donaldglover4spiderman campaign went from being a wild fan suggestion to Glover being cast as Peter Park in the then-upcoming The Amazing Spider-Man reboot to becoming a massive meme, which Glover subtly paid homage to on an episode of Community. And while he did drop an hour-long special on Comedy Central (Weirdo) in 2011, it was his musical contributions as Childish Gambino that continued to take precedence. It started slow; an EP, hosting the mtvU Woodies at SXSW, and finally—four days before Weirdo premiered—he dropped 2011's "Bonfire," giving the world the first glimpse of his debut studio album, Camp.
During this period of Gambino's life, there were a multitude of songs on Glover's heart, many of which turned into his Grammy-nominated sophomore project, 2013's Because The Internet. Glover initially introduced the project via Clapping for the Wrong Reasons, a 24-minute short film that bridged the gap between Camp and Because the Internet. The Grammy-nominated lead single "3005" not only made a splash on the radio, but showed naysayers that he wasn't just twiddling his thumbs or making music just for his loyal fans—he had hits in him. Keep in mind, though, that this is Donald Glover, so not only was Because the Internet an impressive second album, it was also a Glover-penned 75-page screenplay that not only synced with the album but had moments and stage direction written out in Internetspeak (and emoji).
Glover's 2013 departure from Community was in part due to his deal with FX for Atlanta, the critically-acclaimed TV series that debuted in September of 2016. The show, which Glover formed using an all-black writing staff and fondly took to describing as "Twin Peaks with rappers," found unique ways to discuss issues like police brutality, how we treat celebrities, and more in what became the premier TV event for Woke Twitter. The show quickly earned a second season, helped introduce the world to Lakeith Stanfield, and took home two Golden Globes: one for Best Television Series (Musical or Comedy) and one for Glover, who won Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series (Musical or Comedy). In November of 2016, Glover released Awaken, My Love!, the third Childish Gambino album that feels more Parliament Funkadelic than STN MTN. It spawned "Redbone," Glover's most successful single to date, debuting at #75 on the Billboard Hot 100 before re-entering (and peaking) at #45. But as of right now, it feels like Glover's musical aspirations might be taking a back seat to the Hollywood opportunities that keep on knocking.
It was initially announced in October of 2016 that Glover had landed the role of a young Lando Calrissian in the currently-untitled Han Solo spin-off movie, a move which was truly a win for black nerds everywhere. In January of 2017, FX announced that they signed a new deal with Donald Glover that, as Nick Grad, co-boss of Original Programming at FX Networks and FX Productions said, would "allow [Glover] to continue turning his creative vision into incredible television." The first project from that new deal appears to be the animated Deadpool series that Donald Glover will be bringing to FXX alongside his brother, Stephen, whom he also created Atlanta with. In an intriguing coincidence, Zazie Beetz, who won acclaim as Van in Atlanta, was cast in the upcoming Deadpool 2. Interesting bit of synergy there, considering that Fox owns FX and the X-Men movie series that Deadpool is a part of. And let's not forget that Glover is set to voice Simba in the upcoming live-action remake of The Lion King, which would mean he's getting two Disney checks, as the Star Wars universe is now in Mickey Mouse's house (three if you count his check for Spider-Man: Homecoming, which opens in July of 2017).
It's been an amazing 11-year ride for Donald Glover. He's gone from winning as a writer to proving to the world that he was a compelling rapper and songwriter to changing the way we think about black people—and black programming—on television to receiving a string of major looks as a part of huge Hollywood dynasties. Sure, it took a lot of hard work and determination, but the key was his approach. He didn't hop into the major motion picture fray by fighting aliens (ala Will Smith in Independence Day) or being the wise-cracking sidekick (ala Chris Rock in Lethal Weapon 4) to show his range. Glover stayed true to self, understanding that while they might not get what he was doing with Because the Internet or understand why he made sure that Atlanta was as leftfield and as black as it became. He rode the fringes, picking up solid wins that were true to himself, and his name rang so loud that major studios had to pick him up to not only play a part in some of their newest franchises, but help shape what we see on television in the future.
Take a step back and realize that his true wave of mainstream appeal kicked off in 2013, around the lead-up to Because the Internet, and examine how much Donald Glover has been done in the last four years in the world of television, movies, and music. How many other multi-talented individuals can say they have that impressive of a string of wins in that timeframe? And when you realize that Glover's only 33-years-old, you have to then ask yourself, "based on how Glover is winning now, how will he mold Hollywood in the next 10 years?"