Donald Glover, aka Childish Gambino, aka probably one of the most talented men in music, is back with a new album. His first project since 2014’s duel mixtape/EP STN MTN/Kauai, Gambino took a few years off from music to focus on his many non-musical endeavors, most notably producing and starring in his critically acclaimed TV Show. However, the time away from music only made his grand re-entrance even more spectacular – this album is unlike anything he’s ever done before.
Gone are the raps and gritty hip hop production found on previous Gambino projects. Love! has the 33-year-old delve into funk, soul and psychedelia, which would be a little off-putting if Gambino hadn’t totally revamped his voice for the album. Stretching his voice to imitate great soul singers such as Prince and Sly Stone, Gambino does a surprisingly great job at reaching registers no one would have ever thought possible… most of the time. There are instances throughout the album where he his voice either doesn’t do the song justice (Boogieman) or it simply doesn’t sound pleasant on the ears (California). But for the most part, Gambino shows off his range as a vocalist with aplomb.
The songs on Love! are slow-burners; they rarely pick up any type of steam. Rather, they ebb along, incorporating elements of yearning soul, trippy pschedelic rock and toe-tapping funk. “Redbone,” one of the singles, is the product of Gambino’s vision all coming together. The song, concerning a relationship on the fritz via cheating, is over 5 minutes long but never overstays its wlecome. With a consistent, trudging bass line, acousitc drums and even a glockenspiel, the instrumentation pairs well with Gambino’s high-pitched vocals. “Terrified” utilizes a funky bass line while adding electric guitars later on, and once again has Gambino using his voice perfectly. However, as mentioned earlier, sometimes his ambition gets the best of him. “California” is definitely one of those tracks, as the vocal choices throughout the song will make you scratch your head and ask yourself “why did he do this?”
Lyrically the album encompasses several themes regarding racial issues as well as the current state of Gambino’s life. On “Boogieman,” Gambino compares the seemingly growing, racially motivated fear of African Americans to the childhood monster Bogeyman, and that being afraid of both is ridiculous. Gambino continues the racial themes on “Riot.” “No good’s happening/World, we’re out of captains…They tried to kill us/Love to say they feel us/But they won’t take my pride,” he sings over funky grooves. Unlike most pro-black songs that have come out following the killings of blacks by police, this one is upbeat; you can even dance to it. The appeal to this song is most certainly geared towards African-Americans, as the song carries a sense of hope, that racial tensions will ease and they can just boogie the night away without fear. “Baby Boy” has Gambino addressing his son, born earlier this year. Over electric guitar plucks, Gambino is both overjoyed but also distraught, as his celebrity lifestyle could drive a wedge between him and the child’s mother. “Don’t take my baby boy/Don’t take my pride and joy/I hope I stay close, I hope I stay close,” he pleads to his lover.
A very spacious and ambitious record, Gambino handles himself well on Love! You could probably count all the rappers who could pull a project like this off on one hand, but even before knowing how this album ultimately was going to sound like, you should’ve had Gambino on that list. He’s just that talented. And while some of the concepts fall flat, the highs easily overshadow the lows. Awaken, My Love is a triumphant reaffirmation that Gambino is a force to be reckoned with.