“AWAKEN, MY LOVE!” by Childish Gambino
Genre: Psychedelic Soul
Favorite Tracks: “Me And Your Mama,” “Redbone,” “Terrified,” “The Night Me And Your Mama Met,” “Stand Tall”
Donald Glover is riding a creative high.
In addition to landing the role of a young Lando Calrissian in the upcoming Han Solo stand-alone Star Wars film, Glover also took the television industry by storm, leading his television series ATLANTA to universal critical acclaim in its debut season. The show intelligently dissected and examined race and black culture in the context of modern America, suggesting that Glover has evolved and matured as an artist since the days of pretending to poop his pants in skits for DerrickComedy. This holds true for Glover’s musical endeavors too; under the rapper name Childish Gambino — originating from an online Wu-Tang Name Generator — Glover has released two LPs and a handful of mixtapes featuring hip hop songs that range from dark and brooding to downright goofy and silly. However, this is not the old Childish Gambino. On his third LP, “AWAKEN, MY LOVE!,” Glover abandons rapping entirely, and consequently, his willingness to deliver cheeky and cheesy lines such as, “My dick is like an accent mark; it’s all about the ovaries (over E’s),” goes out the window. Instead, Glover ventures into new territory, committing fully to the powers of gospel, funk, and soul. This choice opens up creative room for rich and vivid instrumentals to flourish, displaying much more artistry and introspection than Glover’s old tendencies of gravitating towards minimalist synth lines and 808 drum beats.
Backed by a killer live band and choir, Glover is able to play with dynamics and song structure in a more focused way than ever before, while also proving that he has one of the strongest voices in the music industry currently. The main piece of evidence to support this claim is the opening track, “Me And Your Mama,” a catchy, gospel-tinged anthem that takes its time to breathe and groove until ultimately plunging into a sensationally gritty orgy of thunderous sounds. This song is flat-out dangerous. I’ll just say it: this is my favorite song of the year. Glover’s vocal performance is so unconventional and emotionally charged that I wasn’t even sure that it was him singing at first. I cannot even begin to explain the extent to which the live backing instrumentation pull the song together, even moreso with the rest of the album.
After picking up the pieces of my newly pulverized brain, I dove into the rest of the album, pleasantly surprised with the amount of unique style Glover brought to the table. It’s as if he created a distinct fictional character to pilot the narrative arc of the record. Every song makes a bold choice in terms of vocal delivery and texture, including, but not limited to, autotune, gender-bending effects, and sometimes just singing as if he was being stalked down an alley by a stranger (see “Have Some Love”, “Boogieman”, and “Zombies”).
And while many could perceive these nuances as jarring, Glover’s confidence and commitment to his weird characters makes buying into and enjoying his strange reality effortless. However, said interesting vocal ideas are incomplete without the assistance of Glover’s proficient backing band, who are responsible for the excellent surplus of funk and soul that oozes out of these 11 songs. Psychedelic guitar leads soar over beefy bass licks, and the drums sit tightly in the pocket, casually throwing in masterfully executed fills when necessary. The instrumentation is integral to the appeal of these songs, and I’d go as far as to argue that the studio musicians are the stars of this album. How big of a role Glover had in developing each instrument’s respective part is uncertain, but either way, it’s clear that he enlisted the help of the right people, and pushed them in the correct direction of Parliament/Funkadelic, Sly & The Family Stone, and Prince.
Childish Gambino is no longer the title under which Donald Glover produces fun and uppity college rap, but is instead a platform for him to create purposeful and thoughtful art that capitalizes on his old work’s highs and runs with them. It’s not only that the lyrical content has shifted focus, but the medium through which it is presented has transformed into a beautifully lavish terrain filled with provocative sounds and timbres. And while the two singles, “Me And Your Mama” and “Redbone,” are absolute standout tracks from the album, there are certainly enough commemorable moments throughout the 49 minutes of “AWAKEN, MY LOVE!” to make listening to it in its entirety worthwhile, and make you wonder what in the hell Donald Glover will do next.