Mixtape Review-Culdesac by Childish Gambino
Before you begin to critique Childish Gambino music you have to give a disclaimer. Since Childish Gambino is really wildly successful comedian/actor/writer Donald Glover rap is kind of his low paying second job. That might sound weird but think about it. 60% of his audience is going to pirate any album he’s going to sell and any show he could get paid for as a sweaty yelling rapper he could get paid more for standing behind the mic telling dirty jokes. He could also make crazy loot on television or snag a role as the wacky friend in a Judd Apatow movie. Whenever you have a high paying job and a lower paying secondary job it’s nearly impossible to concentrate on the less profitable one. No matter how much you love the job or the people you work with.
This is why I have to go back to 2010 to find a Childish Gambino project I love. Culdesac is freewheeling and a bit brilliant. Not only is it jam packed with funny-enough- to-rewind lines like these two from Hero: “Actor, writer rapper N_ I do all of it. Lactose tolerant addicted to cheddar,” “Labels on me like I might cause cancer.” It’s emotionally transitional in a way that makes sense. You get adrenaline driven anthems like Glory, I Be On That, and Hero that really show the power and expertise of a flow that still DESTROYS guest features on other peoples mixtapes (see the new Problem mixtape). Gambino can sing and while he overused it in future outings (looking at you Childish Gambino EP) he balances it perfectly on Culdesac. Got this Money is pulsing slick (with a well sung chorus) and fun. So Fly is one of the real high points. The bare minimalist finger snap and doubled vocals lay behind a melodic and powerful homage to a truly attractive girl.
This is where we run into the Brian Wilson problem. Songs like So Fly and Do Ya Like (he actually says “NBC is not the only thing I’m coming on tonight” on this song) prove that not only can Donald Glover rap like he was born to do it, he can sing better than people who make their living doing it. Add all this to great producing through expert sampling (looping Adele snippets two years before anyone thought about it) from weird sources and you’ve got someone so talented that the missteps on projects can feel like tragedies; the misuse of so much potential. Not to mention the wrestling with depression constantly present in Childish Gambino music and the life of Glover. While it is present on Culdesac it doesn’t consume everything around it like it does on the second half of Because The Internet.
As a rock solid Community nerd I want nothing more than to love Childish Gambino but so far it’s been a mixed bag. Culdesac represents a sweet spot where he grabbed some people (like co-producer Ludwig Goransson) and made a mixtape just to see how good he could be. Critics weren’t taking it seriously enough to pick him apart and the internet still liked him. The result is joyful experimentation from someone spilling over with talent. A situation where you travel from song to song amazed at how different one is from the next. Just when you think the claustrophobic fear and frustration of I’m Alright is going to take over you get a stupid, cheerful song like Put It In My Video or a gorgeous doo-wop flavored jam like These Girls (Garfunkel and Oates rule). Bottom line-with a clear mind this dude can accomplish whatever he wants too.
download Culdesac below: