On national television, Donald Glover candidly stated over a year ago that his rap persona, Childish Gambino, is a “period that should come to close.” Although he did not say that it meant his end as a musician, fans and critics were left with deafening silence thereafter. In fact, aside from film appearances and the debut of “Atlanta,” a show with Glover at the helm as lead actor and program creator, Gambino (and that infamous aloof gaze) had virtually disappeared. Even his social media presence flatlined.
Then June 2016 happened and PHAROS Earth randomly seeped out. And that private September listening party. And then a tweet about an album entitled “Awaken, My Love!” due later in the year. And now Dec. 2 has turned out to be the “later” he was referring to. Childish Gambino as he was once known is long gone.
“Awaken, My Love!” has all the makings of an album that will be referenced, debated, assessed, loved and hated for decades to come. It is Gambino’s magnum opus. It is, whoever this new facet of Glover is, the debut of a soul-stirring genre change and an artist we need to see and hear more of.
Track 1 – Me and Your Mama
If the 1970s and 2016 met and had a love child, this would be their offspring. Trippy, eclectic and dramatic as hell, listeners are greeted by small choir vocals and something along the lines of a throwaway track from “The Love Below.” That is, until the two-minute mark when guitars and drums take over. Glover rasps out lyrics of love gone wrong juxtaposed with pleas to be let back into his lover’s heart. The length of the track is not because he ran out of lyrics, but to allow listeners to come back to themselves after the midsection kicks them into the stratosphere. It is needed — this is not the Gambino most know.
Track 2 – Have Some Love
Throw on your high-waist slacks and pick the hell out of your afro, because Gambino was definitely digging through the crates of Funkadelic and War on this track. A simple warning of loving your fellow man as times become more uncertain, this track is most true to the messages and sounds of ’70s music.
Track 3 – Boogieman
Why stop the flashback vibes? This track compliments the tone from the previous song with a twist on a childhood nightmare. Gambino addresses current civil unrest between African Americans and law enforcement; the boogieman is not under the bed, but within the streets as audio from a police squawk box is heard in the background.
Track 4 – Zombies
“Zombies” oozes trippy Rich James 1970s vibes. There are some winning mixing and mastering moments to create a rich tone, but the song, overall, is repetitive. The repetition could be intentional writing, however, as the lyrics allude to being under constant attack. The song is long enough to let you sit with your spliff and contemplate the complexities of all of this.
Track 5 – Riot
With a battle cry at the five-second mark, the adrenaline increases in anticipation of a beat drop that never comes. The track stays elevated from start to finish and never incorporates a heavy bassline. It is a impressive choice for riling up something within without forcing it. “Riot” does not allow you to fully tune it out nor calm down because of this.
Track 6 – Redbone
Youngins will try to place this track with sounds from other songs they have heard while riding along with family members who tell them that they don’t know nothin’ ’bout this. It is inescapable because “Redbone” feels undeniably familiar. The slap bass and openness of the music allows the delivery of the lyrics to really stick out. The melody will stay with listeners hours after the song has been turned off.
Track 7 – California
For fans of “Oakland,” this track could feel a bit out of place amongst the old-school vibes, but it is the simple instrumentation and exaggerated lyricism that makes it fit well. “California” is also a much-needed break from the sounds and emotion of the previous tracks — not necessarily engaging but much-needed.
Track 8 – Terrified
There is a groove to “Terrified” that is undeniable. From threats of being eaten alive, to being challenged to run for cover, it is melodic and creepy in all the right ways. Reverb reigns in this track, giving space for the guitar and bass to live and breathe with ease. Gambino is literally an accent to it all.
Track 9 – Baby Boy
Certainly one of the most emotional songs on the album, “Baby Boy” could be interpreted as a song to his newborn child. However, the lyrics could be a third person perspective on a relationship that brought forth life right before its own demise. A narrative familiar to many, the dynamics of the parents in the song have driven a wedge between father and son, and this is his cry out for inclusion in his son’s life.
Track 10 – The Night Me And Your Mama Met
After pulling at the heartstrings of listeners in the previous track, “The Night…” leaves their minds to wander through the first interaction between a couple. Is this the night that their eyes first met? Or is this the physical union that created an unsuspecting mother and a father? It is not clearly defined, and that is what makes it one of the most impressive moments on the album.
Track 11 – Stand Tall
A long-winded track by length only, “Stand Tall” encourages listeners to embrace optimism throughout life’s challenges. Although the lyrics and chorus are simple, the real poeticism of this track comes from the musical production choices. Variable key changes and emphasis on select instruments seem to mimic the unpredictable movement of life. As soon as it appears the melody is easy to follow, it changes again.
Call it an exaggeration if you want, but when an album can jar Questlove into an unexpected fanboy rant, that speaks volumes. Glover makes a genuine attempt to bring that old feeling back with this album’s colorful narrative.
Ashley Griffin is a diverse writer, blogger and YouTube Personality. A nomad at heart, Ms. Griffin currently resides in Houston, Texas. Find “Multifacetedacg” on YouTube and shoot her a message on Twitter.