Where did this Donald Glover come from?
After he hosted and musical guested on Saturday Night Live an enormous new audience checked into Childish Gambino for the first time unaware of the journey his music has gone on since 2008. Lots of people have heard the name Childish Gambino (aside from Glover and his acting career) and may associate it with music that sucks. “Is that the guy with all the references and the jokes and the self-pity?” Yes and no.
If you are one of the thirty seven million people that hit youtube and marveled at This Is America you may be wondering where this iteration of Childish Gambino came from. Having listened to Gambino since Culdesac I can answer.
In 2014 Gambino went about resolving his central problem: rapping v. singing. He had the technical ability to do well at both but the path to mixing the two wasn’t as clear as it was for Drake or others whose singing style synced up with their flow naturally. The idea was to give both talents an audition. Datpiff would get a mixtape of straight rap with the best beats (you can still find it on datpiff.com) & his follow up would be an R & B ep called Kauai. STN MTN is a fun mixtape with a lot of downloads/streams on datpiff but it ain’t Kauai.
The secret weapon for Glover has been Ludwig Goransson who has produced all of his work (alongside Glover). Their partnership has grown over the years (recently Ludwig did the Black Panther soundtrack) and Kauai was THE turning point.
The seven song ep did not light the charts on fire but confirmed that if Glover was to make music it needed to be grounded in something. He wasn’t going to be able to do what Future or Gucci Mane do and pump out the jams. All the songs on Kauai exist in a place and a moment that Glover uses as the setting. It’s specific to the Hawaiian environment. All throughout the drum sounds and synth have a uniquely tropical bend, and if you are wondering if I am projecting this onto the music just listen to the ocean break and the seagulls sing background on the Beach Picnic Version of V. 3005. In order to get himself in a place where he could create a radio friendly world beating song like Sober he has to have that setting and paint the foreground once it is there. Ludwig understood after Kauai that the setting was his work. That is why Awaken, My Love turned out so well and Camp is still not good.
Please listen to Kauai below:
The strange addendum to this is I’m not sure why after learning how different his creative process needed to be in order to succeed he decided he had to retire after this next album. He’s just cracked the code and now has the pull post-Atlanta post-SNL to do exactly whatever he wants. Why stop now?