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Review: Childish Gambino’s newest experiment has some hits, but misses overall

Donald Glover, also known as, Childish Gambino performs on the main stage on the infield before the 140th running of the Preakness Stakes on Saturday, May 16, 2015, at Pimiico Race Course in Baltimore. Credit: Courtesy of TNS

Donald Glover, also known as Childish Gambino, performs on the main stage on the infield before the 140th running of the Preakness Stakes  in May 2015. Credit: Courtesy of TNS

Whether you know him as the hip-hop artist, the actor, the comedian or the movie and television producer, Donald Glover’s history in the entertainment industry is unlike many his age. With his latest series, “Atlanta,” garnering critical praise as one of the best series on TV, the expectations for Glover’s performance as Childish Gambino, and his newest album were high.

In “Awaken, My Love!” instead of cooking up heavy hitters in the hip-hop and rap world, he created a blues-y and funky R&B album. The Gambino of the past, making hits like “Bonfire” and “Sweatpants” is virtually nowhere to be found on this album.

Some songs on the album are hits. These songs take me back. Though I wasn’t alive for the era when blues dominated the music scene, they remind me of the songs my grandparents would’ve listened to. The melodies are soft while the emotional lyrics and singing add depth. The melodies and singing are textured to make a peaceful and enjoyable listening experience.

The best songs that exemplify this peaceful and nostalgic vibe are the last three songs on the album: “Baby Boy,” “The Night Me and Your Mama Met” and “Stand Tall.”

“Baby Boy” begins the sequence, and, as I listened to this song, I could only imagine watching Gambino in black and white on my old television set performing the song on the “Ed Sullivan Show” in the 1960s. The beat is mostly a piano and drums playing together in the background while guitars create the melody in the foreground.

“The Night Me and Your Mama Met” is almost all instrumental with the exception of a choir in the background adding in an “ohh” or an “ahh” occasionally. I imagine this is Gambino putting the emotions of meeting the future mother of his child into music. The melody is primarily two guitars and Gambino incorporates a few bell chimes throughout. About midway through, one of the guitars switches to a shredding solo while the other continues to play the melody of the song. By the end, the two guitars sync back together and fade out making for a pleasantly soft ending.

“Stand Tall” is the last, and perhaps the best, song on the album. While Apple Music labels the only semi-hip-hop track, “Redbone,” as the most popular track on the album, “Stand Tall” is the most complete song on the album. The melody is a continuation off of the previous song, but eventually opens up with an acoustic guitar, a violin and a flute. Gambino features his singing voice and sings about the advice his mother and father gave him while growing up, reminding him to “smile when he can.”

On the other hand, some songs missed.

In the middle of the album, Gambino experiments, creating “Boogieman” and “Zombies.” Though I appreciate the risk he took, the songs come off as a cheap Halloween jingle and remind me of “Werewolf Bar Mitzvah” on the TV series “30 Rock.” While “Boogieman” is more funk and rock ‘n’ roll, “Zombies” continues the overall blues theme of the album.

Following “Boogieman” and “Zombies” comes my least favorite song on the album: “Riot.” The tempo of the song is fast and the combination of instrumentals and sirens creates a chaotic sound.

Overall, I was disappointed with “Awaken, My Love!” Unlike rappers such as Kendrick Lamar, I don’t think Gambino has established his brand of rap yet to go and make an experimental album like this. Though I am not a huge fan of this album, the way Gambino allows the melodies and beats breathe in his song is one of my favorite attributes of this album. He doesn’t fill his songs with meaningless lyrics or ad libs, he lets listeners enjoy the music. I think this album shows he is still experimenting in the music world, and, like he always does, he’s doing it his in own way.

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