Actor, writer and comedian Donald Glover has recently added rapper to his repertoire under his stage name, Childish Gambino. Most readers may be familiar with Glover as Troy from NBC’s “Community” along with being a writer for Tina Fey’s “30 Rock.” It’s obvious that Glover has talent, but does his alter ego Gambino posses the same celebrity?
Imagine that Drake’s melodic singing and Kanye West’s swagger and rhymes had a love child; the creation would sound a lot like Gambino. “Camp” is Childish Gambino’s first physical album release on Glassnote Records.
The 13-track album shows off Childish Gambino’s wit and versatile style while giving insight to his inner demons. The album opens with the dramatic “Outside,” which immediately takes listeners off on a journey with Gambino. The choral group-assisted intro lets listeners get a taste of Glover’s struggles with his family, from growing up poor in Georgia to his present-day trials and tribulations backed by epic crashing cymbals.
The foundation that holds Gambino’s “Camp” together is composer Ludwig Goransson, who, along with Glover, co-produced the beautiful music Gambino croons over, which is filled with hard-hitting bass, orchestral strings, 808 drums, piano and electric guitar riffs. Although this is Childish Gambino’s first album, this project isn’t Glover’s first foray into music. Multiple mixtapes and an EP featuring metaphor-heavy “Freaks and Geeks” (a reference to the Judd Apatow show of the same name) solidified his skills as a master on the microphone.
The single “Bonfire” displays a brash and confident Gambino. Utilizing a punchline-heavy flow reminiscent of a younger Lil Wayne from “Tha Carter II” era, the haunting chants over a fire siren create the perfect backdrop for Gambino to display his witty word play with lines such as, “My d— is like an accent mark, it’s all about the over e’s (ovaries).” The audacious line, “Made the beat then murdered it, Casey Anthony,” made me rewind the song back a few times.
“All the Shine” and the interlude “Letter Home” completely shifts gears with a string-assisted track that puts Glover’s insecurities on full display, gently singing to his camp crush. “You’re the only girl I have ever wanted. Every other girl is trying to be you.” One of the most impressive facets of Gambino’s personality is how quickly he can switch attitudes without sounding too corny or forced.
House music-influenced “Heartbeat” brings the energy right back. It is clearly a standout track that will be added to heavy rotation at radio stations and nightclubs. Gambino reminisces over a lost love that he can’t seem to get over: ”I wanted you to know, whenever you are around I can’t speak. … So we done? This the real s—? We used to hold hands like field trips. I’m a jerk but your dude is a real d—. I read his posts on your wall and I feel sick.”
Donald says hi to the haters on “Backpackers,” in which he insults himself by picking out what people say is lame about him, even claiming that he is “the only white rapper who’s allowed to say the N-word.” Glover’s blackness is a central theme to the album; even though he’s not ghetto or from the ‘hood, he is insistent that he is still just as black as anyone that is. “Hold Me Down” takes the same theme and presents it in a more serious tone, gliding over a powerful piano and emotional violin. “This one kid said somethin’ that was really bad. He said I wasn’t really black because I had a dad. I think that’s kinda sad mostly ‘cause a lot of black kids think they should agree with that.”
Gambino displays his misogynistic politically incorrect persona on one of my favorite songs, “You See Me,” where he displays his love toward Asian women over the bass-heavy beat you would expect to hear on a Waka Flocka album. This song definitely garners the parental advisory that adorns the lower-left corner of the album cover. He uses quick double-time flows that would impress the likes of Busta Rhymes. “Camp” concludes with “That Power” which features a four-minute monologue at the end of the song in which Gambino shares the tough lesson he learned on the bus trip back from summer camp, which I won’t spoil for you.
Although “Camp” isn’t quite perfect, his humor and clever lyrics with songs such as “You See Me,” “Bonfire” and “Heartbeat” will keep bringing you back. Childish Gambino certainly made a great body of work that has a serious shot to be a contender for hip-hop album of the year alongside “Watch the Throne” and “Take Care.” Even though Donald Glover has made it big on the silver screen, there is no doubt that his celebrity will only continue to grow as Childish Gambino tries to take over your stereo.