[Album]: Awaken, My Love
[Artist]: Childish Gambino
Overall Grade/Rating: 9/10
Subject Matter: A-
Replay Value: A
Fav Songs: Riot, California, Redbone, Have Some Love, Boogieman
Least Fav Songs: Terrified
Play or Nay: Play
Critique: It’s not surprising that Donald Glover, aka Childish Gambino, has turned in a phenomenal hit at the end of the year. The artist is really beginning to spread his wings. Not only by writing, acting, producing and starring in his own television series Atlanta, but stepping outside of the genre of hip-hop. Up until now, Gambino has released a series of mixtapes/ Ep’s and albums that were all hip-hop, though admittedly becoming a bit more experimental as they progressed.
Now, we’re at the point where Gambino has put the bars and flows aside, and showing us his strong and versatile vocal skills. With Awaken, My Love, Childish Gambino, as well as his longtime collaborator Ludwig Göransson, have taken us all on a ride in his time machine to the 1970s. This is where bands like Ohio Players, Bootsy Collins, George Clinton, and so many others reigned supreme. It is vintage soul music, as well as psychedelic soul and rock. With some contemporary pieces of production thrown in here and there.
But he may have given us a hint that he was headed in this direction, with his Kauai EP. The entire thing was a collection of R&B tunes and soul sounds as well as more straightforward singing. Either way, Gambino gave us something new and has done so incredibly well. It is certainly his more mature album to date.
Coming in at 11 tracks, the album is almost perfectly paced. The first song, “Me and Your Mama,” has a compelling and hypnotic intro. “I’m in love when we are smokin’ that la-la-la-la-la.” Gambino is passionately singing about a relationship he doesn’t want to see the end of. The vocals here are, quite literally, screaming at you and viscerally pulling you in.
If you’re not onboard with this first track then this entire ride isn’t one for you. Gambino doesn’t hold back with the vocals even on the next track, “Have Some Love.” It feels like a soulful classic plucked from a record store decades ago. The sense of community felt in the vocals during the hook is infectious and will slap a permanent smile on your face. It’s positive message and lyrics also help with that.
“Boogieman” is a beast. Not only sonically, but lyrically, as well. One can call it political, with Gambino illustrating the fear of Black Americans. The song could also be commenting on how Black people can negatively look at one another, and being trapped in this cycle of discrimination and self hate. “Every boy and girl all around the world, knows my ni***s’ words / But if he’s scared of me, how can we be free?,” Childish Gambino sings.
But the song is also one incredibly groovy and funky ride, even if the lyrical content doesn’t hit you like it should. “Zombies” illustrates a world where people are vultures, “eating you for profit,” as the song suggests. It also features a great instrumental break towards the end.
The album has its high energy moments, like with “Riot,” which George Clinton helped write, and its more somber moments like with “Baby Boy.” Childish Gambino lives up to his name, with a track like “California” placed in the middle of this album, which is probably the most comedic and upbeat song on the whole album. Not everybody is going to appreciate what he is doing vocally on this track, seeing as it could be a bit annoying.
The song before it, “Redbone,” production-wise serves as a classic love song. But in fact, Gambino is detailing how your partner can be cheating on you without you even knowing. “Stay woke.”
If you’re in the mood for something different, give this a try. Awaken, My Love is without a doubt one of the best and most surprising albums of 2016. Seeing this performed live when he goes on tour is going to be one heck of an experience.