Childish Gambino is the rap stage name of actor, writer, producer and comedian Donald Glover who has enjoyed vast success in his many roles, particularly as Gambino in the music industry. His rise as a rapper took time to really blossom into a large scale and it wasn’t until his second album (because the internet) where he really got the credit as a great musician. His genre has been predominantly hip-hop and R&B but with this new release and return, Glover has opted to join the 2016 soulful renaissance which has been shown through artists such as Anderson .Paak and Chance The Rapper with great acclaim. It is a bold step and I am certainly intrigued to see what he has to offer on this album. So let’s see if “Awaken, My Love!” is worth getting out of bed for.
Me And Your Mama – 10/10
The triumphant and glorious return of Gambino came through on this track as he plunged head first into a relatively untested genre for him. The song begins with such a blissfully smooth instrumental which then matches up with the soulful support vocals with real punch and effect. The build up of the song does take its time and I can certainly see why people would perhaps feel it drags on too long but as far as I see it, Gambino uses the length of time perfectly and manages to apply a wide array of backing sounds to the instrumental and create new layers of music. It’s almost a blissful array of wonder until we have an explosion of passion and we get our first taste of his voice which sounds the best it has ever been. Nobody thought he could sing like this, he sounds like James Brown in his prime, pure and emotive with a hardcore delivery. Lyrically it is heartfelt and passionate with a bunch of deep undertones surrounding his true feelings towards “mama” where he mentions her having “a hold” on him. It then fades back into a peaceful finale, almost as if that couple of minutes of derailed energy didn’t happen. Basically it is an absolutely stunning introduction and I don’t think you will hear a better album opener than this all year. Welcome back Donald.
Have Some Love – 8.5/10
This is such a feel good song and that atmosphere is built up from the start as we hear a choral vocal speaking about “having love for one another” which sounds like it has a very tightly knit unit and a solid base within it. The verse is the polar opposite of this as it sounds unclear to grasp fully what he says as he sounds as though he’s in pain while rapping the verse and squeezing out every word with all of his might. The switch up on this song is great as we again are treated to a great mix of sounds and vocals which mesh together to make a real sense of confusion, which is without doubt the intention as we take a step inside the mind of Childish Gambino who is also confused in his quest for love. A great track with so many different layers within it.
Boogieman – 8.5/10
This song has a huge taste of the late and great Prince within it, who was one of Gambino’s idols so he will have taken huge inspiration off him in the process of this album. So it hardly comes as a surprise when we hear these funk style guitar licks and elongated vocal tones. The backing vocal also works wonders on the chorus of this song as it adds a gospel element while also creating context to the bizarre instrumental which sounds a bit like a cut from a Halloween film. He, of course, doesn’t mean he’s the literal “boogieman” with “a gun in his hand” so it’s fair to assume that he will in fact be implying that he is pursuing this girl he cares about and is willing to do whatever it takes to make her his. A real funk anthem with another switch of vocal delivery from Gambino which comes as a huge treat for us all.
Zombies – 9/10
Once again the stand out aspect of this song is the flawless use of the guitars on the instrumental as they set the moody yet funky tone for this song. The vocals are tight and crisp while also having a slight twist of whining to add tension to the story of the “Zombies”. This song has the feel of a story he is telling to his child, particularly with the “you will find there is no safe place to hide” line at the end of the chorus which is perhaps a lesson he is teaching his child and preparing them for the outside world. The synth guitar is as good as it’ll ever sound on here with a million and one effects added to it to make it sound funkier than Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars when they head Uptown. Another smooth funk track with a stunning instrumental and an insightful and eye-opening anecdote within it. Glorious work once again.
Riot – 8.5/10
A short snippet of a track here at just two minutes long but we get this James Brown style vocal once again with the passionate scream at the beginning as well as his change ups of tone. The song is called “Riot” for good reason here because that’s exactly what it sounds like he had writing and performing this song, an absolute riot. It is such a fun track from start to finish and I’m sure he had even more fun crafting it. The modernised beat has a space age twist to an old school backdrop which is something he has executed all the way through this album so far and long may it continue. A great length of song and a fantastic set up track for what is to follow.
Redbone – 10/10
The second single on the album and by far and away the cleanest and most technical track on the album. I will be the first to admit I wasn’t keen on this at first listen but I have never witnessed a song grow on me more than this. It is a powerful and heartbreaking message of trauma and fear on Gambino’s part as he tries to protect his partner from other men given her reputation as a ‘Redbone’ which is a term of endearment towards women who sleep around. It has such an intriguing story within it as we hear the verses speak about his acceptance of her cheating and how he has given up on her as a solid foundation for a relationship; but the pre-chorus and the chorus itself tell a different story entirely. He is desperate for her to stay loyal to him and build a family as he warns her to “stay low” due to people “creeping”. The instrumental is genius and infectious, one of the smoothest beats I’ve heard this year and the synth styled guitar solo creates a great aurora around the whole song, setting it up for it’s finale. Another divine piece of music from this sure to be album of the year contender.
California – 7.5/10
Another feel good sway style song with a smooth soul instrumental with an almost West Coast twist without switching into a hip-hop atmosphere. The vocal is strange and almost cliche in it’s delivery, particularly in the verse which is basically impossible to gather what he says. I really like the use of the woodwind instruments on the instrumental as they make a unique sound and aren’t your typical instrument of choice on this type of song. Once again the bass guitar and the keyboards are fantastic and make a really nice sound which compliments the chorus well. Good song but without a doubt it is very odd.
Terrified – 8.5/10
A much different feel and approach to this one as he ditches the soul and goes much more soulful with the snaps and the dark beat. The layers of vocal are smooth and almost heavenly in their delivery while the guitar is used impeccably once again creating a more old school soul rock sound. The bridge of the song adopts more of a classic Gambino approach as he repeats that he’s “spending” in a breath heavy tone which sounds much like a cut from ‘Because the Internet’. This possibility of flowing into that avenue is completely squashed by the end of the song which takes around a minute and a half of a young boy singing a melodic and passionate ballad, linking beautifully into the title of the next song. This is great and one of the strong points on the album.
Baby Boy – 7.5/10
Great use of synth guitar at the beginning which is accompanied by a smooth funk band playing a slow instrumental behind an autotuned vocal which is very reminiscent of Redbone just with more elongation. The song’s intent is definitely for Donald Glover to sing about the importance of his child and how he is desperate to stay with him at all times, begging “don’t take my baby boy.” I do feel the fact it is 6 minutes long may be seen as quite unnecessary and I’d tend to agree seeing as for the most part there’s not much difference in the style of the song so it kind of drags at times. Despite this, it’s a great soul ballad with a twist and it utilises autotune on his vocal brilliantly as it shows his frailty and weakness without his baby boy there by his side. Still a very good song but if it were a couple of minutes shorter that would’ve made it a brilliant song, it loses it’s magic after a certain amount of time.
The Night Me And Your Mama Met – 8.5/10
An acoustic cut which feels like the person who is singing it should be accompanied with a halo every time it is performed. A really emotive and smooth sound to it particularly from the backing choir who sound stunning. In typical fashion of this album I very much enjoy the way the song fades in progressively and adds new sounds to the instrumental along the way, with this technique hitting its peak when the electric guitar solo kicks in to provide yet more joy on this already very cool and savvy instrumental. I do feel as though it works better with no lyrics as we get to hear all the layers of instrumental clearly and concisely. A multi-dimensional, multi-talented song which is as sophisticated as it gets.
Stand Tall – 9/10
It is always important to see how an album ends, it’s often the song with the most focus on it given that it needs to sum up everything that’s been said before it. What Donald Glover does with this song is just remarkable, very stripped back and a clear, autotune free vocal which focuses on advice he is giving to his son, almost as if he is leaving somewhere and may not see him again. His vocal performance is absolutely fantastic and flows very nicely alongside the instrumental and the choir which have a different sound to them and appear more jazz like with the saxophone and flutes. This stripped back aesthetic lasts until about 3 minutes in and then after that we get the equivalent of a time vortex in musical form as the whole sound becomes much more futuristic and sped up. It’s a fantastic touch to add new dimensions to the song and perhaps to follow on from his original point of ‘standing tall’ he shows in this part that life goes by very quickly so don’t regret anything. A remarkable finale to an equally remarkable album.
Overall – 9/10
This is stunning and without doubt the best thing Childish Gambino has ever done. Cold, hard evidence of the man’s genius and his incredible talent, he ventured away from hip-hop and brought funk and soul into the public eye with this album and it’s an absolute triumph. The singles are two of the best songs of the year and everything else is just as good. An instrumentally flawless record and the only album I can think of this year which could push Frank Ocean’s ‘Blond’ to album of the year. Donald, take a bow because this was unbelievable and every single one of your heroes who helped influence this album would have been very very proud.