Any fan of Donald Glover’s alter ego Childish Gambino has been waiting for this album since the ‘Pharos’ app was dropped through his twitter as early as June. Closed off gigs in his American tour hyped the release of his new music to a tantalizing scale and I for one couldn’t have expected the difference in his sound when he released his single “Me and Your Mama”. In fact, I was in severe shock at the depth of change after just the first listen. To understand this sudden change, I decided to look album by album to find the answer.
When ‘Camp’ in 2011 was released it seemed public image and reaction was the focus of his raps, mainly due to the stigma from the public. A reaction that didn’t take him seriously “why does every black actor gotta rap some” (Bonfire- Camp).
As a result, his music was a heavily passive aggressive response “I ain’t trying I’m doing, these other rappers are foolish” (All the Shine- Camp).
In some songs it was just simply an aggressive shut down of aforementioned opinions. You really just need to listen to his song ‘Backpackers’, it has some ‘colorful’ (let’s say), challenges to such hate. A mild example of his disgust with public image limitation can be seen in ‘Backpacker’ “nerdy ass black kid, whatever man I’m sick of him” (Backpacker-Camp).
Two years after ‘Camp’ Gambino released ‘Because The Internet’, which dealt a lot with the same issues as Camp. Importantly though this album shows the first signs of his focus on musical experimentation creating atmospherically experiences. ‘II. earth: the oldest computer’ and ‘II.zealots of stockholm’ both deal with mortality, power and issues of love. The last song in the album states “Camp was a million years ago, sing me a new song”, and so begun the experimentation Gambino was driven by in his new album.
A year later in 2014 ‘Kauai’ was released, this album featured more singing and pop like music. It also involved some spoken poetry by Jaden Smith and it was a step towards the new album. The story telling creation of atmosphere at the end of ‘Pop Thieves’ and the piece ‘Late Night in Kauai’ I can only describe as the ghost of this new album. The quote from Late Night in Kauai “It’s all about packaging”, seems to allude to his changing view of his musical sound, the development of his artistic identity leading to ‘Awaken, My Love’.
Now I haven’t even begun to touch on how his new album is an experimental funky soulful exploration in itself, I mean the album almost rejects his previous sound, absent of rapping and replaced with soulful vocals and pronounced bass. This is the Gambino he was reaching for, and from ‘Camp’ to ‘Awaken My Love’ he has progressed from a passive aggressive rap artist, to an experimental vocalist.
His exploration of self-identity and struggle with the contrasting aspects of reception has actually resulted in the creation of this album. An album that celebrates funk, raw emotion, simple drum patterns and goose bump worthy falsetto that evokes soul. As you can hear in ‘Zombies’ from ‘Awaken My Love’, the ghostly whisper of “we’re coming out to get you, we’re oh so glad we met you” is the emergence of his new sound, and I am certainly glad to have heard it.
Not so Childish any more I think. 😎