Donald Glover is a busy man. Whether he’s winning Golden Globes for his new TV series “Atlanta,” performing stand-up, welcoming his first child, or working as his nerd-rap alter ego, Childish Gambino, Glover can’t seem to help but to venture out into new avenues of entertainment and succeed at most everything he attempts.
His latest album as Childish Gambino, “Awaken, My Love!” is a testament to Glover’s talent, diversity, and creativity. “Awaken, My Love!” is unrecognizable as a Childish Gambino album. Gone is the tongue-in-cheek, geeky rapping persona and in its place is a soulful, jazzy, psychedelic R&B soundscape. While this might alienate some of his hip-hop audience, it has all the earmarks of an experimental masterpiece.
Typically, I focus heavily on individual tracks while writing album reviews, but it appears that “Awaken” was meant to be listened to in its entirety. Sure, tracks like “Me and Your Mama” and “Redbone” were released as singles and are certainly strong enough to stand on their own, but after listening to the album in full, these songs fit perfectly to create a cohesive experience. This adds to the album’s retro feel, harkening back to the days of vinyl records and cassette—formats that encouraged the rise of albums that were more than a collection of singles.
While a great deal of contemporary artists have attempted an old-school approach, few have managed to infuse the emotional sentiment that Gambino alludes to throughout the album. Knowing the usual Childish Gambino output, one might assume “Me and Your Mama” was referencing the classic middle school go-to insult. However, the track (along with another cut from the album, “The Night Me and Your Mama Met”) suggest a more parental nature. Perhaps the album’s classic sound is a tribute to the music Glover’s parents enjoyed. This could also reflect his recent entry into fatherhood, with his maturation as a person running parallel with his maturation as an artist.
Much also needs to be said about the excellent musicianship on the album. Producer Ludwig Göransson provides a great deal of the instrumentation, with a large ensemble of other talented musicians handling the album’s various influences, ranging from the Led Zeppelin-y guitars of “Me and Your Mama” to the funk of “Boogieman.” Austin-based bluesman Gary Clark, Jr. also lends his guitar skills to the instrumental “The Night Me and Your Mama Met.”
With Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar, and other rap artists branching out into the avant-garde, “Awaken, My Love!” manages to stand out. Where others may dip their toes into jazz, Childish Gambino dives in headfirst and never looks back.