From Steve Urkel To Stefan Urquelle: Donald Glover’s Transformation From Geek Rapper To Cultural Polymath

Steve Urkel was the titular nerd on the ’90s sitcom, Family Matters. His genius was mostly hidden behind his nasally falsetto voice and snorted chortles. Even his genius inventions seemed to inherit his clumsiness, except for one.

Urkel invented an elixer called “cool juice.” It would seemingly do the impossible: make Steve Urkel cool. And it did just that.

Steve Urkel became Stefan Urquelle, the man that Laura Winslow (Urkel’s lifelong, unrequited love) swooned after. Urkel’s transformation parallels that of the singular Donald Glover. Glover went from being a writing prodigy for 30 Rock and the cult comedy group, Derrick Comedy, a goofy actor on Community, to being a modern renaissance man.

It’s not only his excellent recent body of work, but how he’s hitting his peak in every avenue of his talents that’s really staggering.

He’s the creator of one of the most interesting TV shows this past decade, Atlanta. He’s shed his geek rapper persona in favor of crooning like Prince and subverting musical expectations with the visual This is America. He’s also starring alongside Beyonce in the live action remake of The Lion King.

His transformation is undeniable, but the question is what was Donald Glover’s “cool juice?” We can only speculate, but perhaps it wasn’t too dissimilar from what happened with Steve Urkel. He realized that everyone saw him as a nerd and that was working against him.

Donald Glover wasn’t cool with that.

It’s not that Glover was ashamed of his nerdom, which is apparent in his debut album Camp and his numerous mixtapes before that.

His nerddom was what made him so relatable, but it wasn’t getting him what he wanted. In a profile for the New Yorker, Glover gave this insight:

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“Before my first album came out, I wanted people to like me, and to realize that I had good intentions… Then I realized that no one has good intentions—we all just have incentives.”

Urkel’s incentive in becoming Stefan was to get the girl of his dreams. What was Glover’s incentive? The answers are in front of us. It’s in the music we listen to and in the shows and movies we watch. He’s everywhere. Does this mean Glover regrets or is done with his nerdy side?

As much as Stefan was preferable as a lover in comparison to Steve, the truth is that the audience and even Laura preferred Steve. He was unashamedly himself and despite his annoying flaws, we found him to be genuine.

The ultimate culmination of Donald Glover’s transformation ironically happened in the intersection of nerd and cool: his role as Lando Calrissian in Solo.

The thing about “cool juice” is that it was sourced from Urkel’s own genes. Cool was inside him all along and he just needed to bring it out. The genius of Donald Glover is that as cool as he is now, he’ll always have that nerd inside him.

It’s what’s gotten him to this point and in that pivotal scene in The Lion King where Mufasa reminds Simba who he is, we can be sure that Glover knows.

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