If you’re unacquainted with Childish Gambino (Donald Glover) – Where have you been?! The rapper/singer, actor, screenwriter, comedian and occasional DJ has enjoyed a wave of successes over the past few years especially, with acting roles in ‘The Martian’ (2015), The Emmy wining series ‘Atlanta’ (2016); of which he is creator, writer, director and executive producer, as well as more recently appearing in ‘Spider-man: Homecoming’ (2017).
With Glover also set to feature in the upcoming ‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’ as Lando Calrissian, voice the lead role of Simba in Disney’s upcoming ‘Lion King’ remake, as well as reportedly being selected for the role of executive producer for a new ‘Deadpool’ TV series along with his brother, it seems that we’ll only be seeing more from the talented 34 year old.
After the release of Childish Gambino’s most recent musical effort in late 2016; the acclaimed ‘Awaken, My Love!’ which was a huge departure from his usual hip-hop styled music to a more soulful and funk infused sound, Glover announced that he may soon be retiring from music, or at the very least retiring his Childish Gambino moniker (a name Glover started using after entering his name on to an online Wu-tang Clan name generator). Time will tell.
Preceding his first studio album ‘Camp‘, Childish Gambino released 2008’s ‘Sick Boi EP’ – although it wasn’t until 2010 efforts; ‘I AM JUST A RAPPER’, ‘I AM JUST A RAPPER 2’ and ‘Cul De Sac’, that he really began to reach a wider audience as a musician as they proved popular on music blogs and Tumblr. By the time the loosely summer camp themed album ‘Camp’ was released in 2011; a debut Donald Glover co-produced entirely with his longtime collaborator Ludwig Göransson, Childish Gambino finally had mainstream appeal and along with that, the attention of critics across the hip-hop genre.
“The shit I’m doin’ this year? Insanity.
Made the beat then murdered it: Casey Anthony.”
– Childish Gambino – Bonfire (2011)
While ‘Camp’ is far from a perfect album, 6 years on from its release it is stands as a victory for alternative hip-hop. Leaving (for the most part) toxic masculinity that can be prevalent in hip-hop at the door; and covering themes of race, identity and relationships in an almost campfire confessional manner, ‘Camp’ is an original whirlwind of emotions accentuated by fantastic instrumental production and arrangement – as well as witty comedic lyrics, streams of consciousness and displays of Childish Gambino’s range as a musician with rapping, singing and spoken word segments.
From the raw and uplifting choral opening of ‘Outside’ to the final musings of ‘That Power’ Childish Gambino set a precedent on this album as one of alternative hip-hop’s forerunning examples that the nature of hip-hop was truly changing and that you no longer needed street credibility to be relevant or successful within the genre.
‘Bonfire’, the lead single from the LP; and arguably his most lyrically dense track of the album, is a fun, hard hitting train of puns, pop-culture references, jokes and punch lines that doesn’t really seem to be about much, apart from Gambino maybe showcasing his stand-up comedy skills in lyrical form. It’s certainly something he did well as the track stands the test of time as being one of the most tongue in cheek hip-hop songs in recent memory (although Lil’ Wayne and Eminem certainly might have a few things to say about the topic) – whilst not even necessarily being specifically a comedy song.
Other stand-out tracks include ‘Heartbeat’, which is arguably the most popular offering on ‘Camp’ and the second single released, although a honourable mention has to go to the popular bonus track: ‘Freaks and Geeks‘.
‘Heartbeat‘ is a pounding, electronically infused track with contrasting piano accompaniment, where Childish Gambino expertly mixes the pop, rock and hip–hop genres whilst examining a complex romantic relationship and the emotions and complications that can come along with it in the increasingly ruthless modern world of smartphones, social media and the seemingly increasing amount of open relationships.
At a time where many young adults were dealing with similar relationship issues that were exacerbated by technology, ‘Heartbeat’ had fans acknowledging Childish Gambino as a contemporary artist who had no issues tackling what life as a post-smartphone millennial was like, which he would later take one step further with his next album ‘Because the Internet’ (2013).
“The text say that “It’s not fair”.
That’s code for “He’s not here”.”
– Childish Gambino – Heartbeat (2011)
Although the album was certainly juvenile at times (there’s more than a couple of dick jokes) this can be forgiven as there are also moments where there are also contrasting points of maturity such as on ‘L.E.S’; a song about falling in love with the hipster chicks of New York’s Lower East Side, and also on the spoken word outro of final track (when excluding bonus tracks) ‘That Power’.
‘That Power’ – the longest track of the album at approximately 8 minutes, explores emotional vulnerability as after two verses addressing haters and the crisis of identity that occurs when he’s been labeled by black people as “not black enough” while white people identify him as “white” (for the benefit of those who have been under a rock he’s definitely black), Gambino recounts a story that serves as the outro to the LP.
“And regrettably I end up using the word “destiny.”
I don’t remember in what context. Doesn’t really matter.”
Childish Gambino – That Power (2011)
The story consists of children cruelly teasing a boy who used the word “destiny” to describe how he felt about time spent with a girl from his summer camp and how the boy learned retrospectively from his experience the power that words can have. Listeners can’t help but get the impression that although the story closing the album off isn’t necessarily true (it was written by Derrick Comedy’s D.C Pierson) Donald Glover uses it as a metaphor for what he has gone through personally, and how he has grown as an individual – slightly absolving Glover of the more juvenile lyrics on the album.
Six years on from the release of ‘Camp’, looking back retrospectively with knowledge of Childish Gambino’s later works of ‘Because the Internet’ and ‘Awaken, My love!’, ‘Camp’ stands as a seminal moment in both hip-hop and Childish Gambino’s career, whilst also standing as a testament to how quickly an artist, genre; or maybe people in general, can evolve and mature.
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