Childish Gambino Album Review 12.12.16
Donald Glover, who makes music under the alias Childish Gambino has always exceeded expectations in the sheer number of things he can pull off well. As a screenwriter, actor, comedian, rapper, and all around musician, he is somewhat of a Jack of all trades. He has proven that he can switch from genre to genre sounding just as comfortable as ever. Some artists skills are limited to hip hop, funk, or soul, but Gambino blends all of them seamlessly, incorporating elements of folk and blues as well. And sometimes, it seems like this album is his best yet. Even though he left behind most of the witty wordplay of his past work, he replaced it with artfully constructed melodies and polished yet complicated instrumentals. He uses some of the same obvious mood changes that happen in Because the Internet. However, points in Awaken, My Love! could be mistaken for an entirely different artist. Some people are saying he’s the next Kanye.
The album starts out with Me and Your Mama, a syncopated three part tune. On his previous albums, he was never heard singing in quite the same way. Awaken, My Love! brings the heart that some of his other stuff is missing. All artists struggle with authenticity to some extent. This album is obviously very personal, yet it manages to be strong not whiny. It seems that he has found the balance between too personal and not personal enough. Maybe this comes with the new responsibility of being a father, or maybe it comes as a result of making an album for his child rather than making it for himself, but it is certainly a breath of fresh air.
He then moves into almost 70s rock with strong drum beats and muted guitars and then 80s with a few moments that sound almost similar to Deelite’s Groove is in the Heart. On Redbone, the first single from the album, he sings “Stay woke… Now don’t you close your eyes”. While Gambino is typically wittier than many of his fellow rappers, he still often talked about the same common themes of bitches, money, and superiority in his previous work. With this album, however, he has taken his words back to their roots, using his music to make people aware of social justice, of things that are happening in the world. Hip hop artists have often used their voice to speak out against oppression. Themes of pride in oneself and one’s community come through. There are lyrics that seem to speak to the Black Lives Matter movement. He speaks of the Boogieman, of being terrified, of being eaten for profit. California is like an intermission, bringing light hearted surf rock influences to contrast the more existential spacey funk rock that composes much of the rest of the album. Awaken, My Love! is more cohesive and concise than Because the Internet, and more professional and thought out sounding than Kauai.
Another thing notable in this album is that Gambino speaks of love in a deeper and more protective way. He has moved on, at least for the time being, from the typical big talk of a young rapper. This album is rumoured to be for his child, which makes perfect sense. He is more tender. He sings for his girlfriend, and for his baby boy. Towards the end of the album, a child’s voice sings “You can’t run from me, you can’t hide from me” signifying apprehension about fatherhood. The final track is multifaceted instrumentally and concludes by sharing his wisdom with someone younger or less experienced. Gambino sings about advice from his mom and dad, ending with a final joyous yell cut off just like he ended in the middle of a story.
Childish Gambino’s old work will surely be missed, but for now it will be interesting to see where he takes his heart in the future.