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?
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Tagged Awaken My Love, Black Panther, Camp, Childish Gambino, Donald Glover, Kauai, Ludwig Goransson, Saturday Night Live, singing v. rapping, STN MTN, This is America
Song Review-California by Childish Gambino produced by Donald Glover & Ludwig Goransson
Don’t ever take “talented” as a compliment. It is not specific enough to call what you do valuable. Donald Glover spent his whole career fighting this designation. He could have kept putting out projects like Camp full of punch lines and geek culture references, and that album is good enough to get him called talented. It is good enough for people to buy and follow his career.
Talent isn’t craftsmanship, it isn’t approach. His new album Awaken My Love is head and shoulders above anything he’s done before musically (Troy Barnes 4 life). Instead of spitting feverishly with as many inside jokes as can fit he lets the music lead him and he does what the song needs. It is my 7th favorite album of the year (I don’t post lists on this site so you don’t get to know the rest!) because it has a real groove that guides it and doesn’t try to jam too much into the space it provides.
While Stand Tall is the height of its beauty California is such a necessary release (like Forrest Gump on Channel Orange for Frank Ocean). For those fearing that he would allow this album to slide into depression like Because The Internet; California is fearless lovable while telling a tale of absolute failure. Songs like this show that he is loose enough to play and past the initial stage of calibrating his talent level. Gambino has control and isn’t creating music to prove to you he can, instead he is giving you his vision and this time it is great.
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:
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Tagged 2010 mixtapes, Because The Internet, Childish Gambino, Community, Culdesac, Donald Glover, Garfunkel and Oates, Lil Wayne influenced, Ludwig Goransson, mixtape review, nerd hip hop, TIna Fey music