Childish Gambino Trades Rap for Soul on “Awaken, My Love!”
Donald Glover – aka Childish Gambino – trades rhymes for singing on his ambitious third studio album, “Awaken, My Love!”
Donald Glover is an extremely talented, versatile individual. As an actor, he is Donald Glover. As a musician, he is better known as Childish Gambino. Interestingly, Childish Gambino is known for his rapping, releasing two rap albums: Camp (2011) and Because the Internet (2013). Following an R&B EP (Kauai), his third album, “Awaken, My Love!” eschews rap completely in favor of throwback soul. Although it is a surprising turn of events, the results are worthwhile.
“Me and Your Mama”
Mysterious production work opens highlight and promo single, “Me and Your Mama.” It sounds like a lullaby, very dreamy in sound. When the production stabilizes, it channels throwback, lush R&B. The intro is handled by backing vocals:
“I’m in love when we are smokin’ that la-la-la-la-la…”
This occurs eight consecutive times. Things get more ambitious after the intro with a blues-rock-oriented hook:
“Do what you want! / I’ll tell you / let me into your heart!”
The ambitiousness carries over into verses. “Me and Your Mama” becomes a blend of rock and emotional, heart wrenching soul. Numerous lyrical highlights appear.
The funky “Have Some Love” follows the thrilling opener exceptionally. “Have Some Love” serves as a stark contrast, but there is common ground – love. The message is socially-conscious, evidenced by the chorus:
“Have a word for your brother / have some time for one another / really love one another / it’s so hard to find.”
The love in this context references brotherhood. The message, hence, is pitch perfect.
Highlight “Boogieman” keeps the groove alive and well. Like “Have Some Love,” classic soul serves as the inspiration. Furthermore, like the style it emulates, it’s also socially-driven. The Boogieman is fictional, but Childish Gambino purposely makes references to guns and crimes. Interestingly, in the second verse, the message expounds even more as he sings:
“Every boy and girl all around the world / knows my n*ggas words / but if he’s scared of me / how can we be free?”
“Boogieman” is legit, tackling tough, but important viewpoints.
From the Boogieman, Glover moves on to “Zombies”:
“All I see is zombies feeding all around us / all they eat are people (and you won’t survive) / they don’t know what happened, they just stay alive.”
While zombies are the choice of predator, Childish Gambino is once more being metaphorical. The zombies are people…very bad people. Even so, his dramatic performance is a treat.
“Riot” is as wild as its title suggests. A spirited two minutes, “Riot” blends psychedelic soul and psychedelic rock effectively. While it is difficult to clearly pinpoint the bigger picture, Glover clearly has a message.
“No good fighting / world, we’re out of captains / everyone just wants a better life…”
Highlight “Redbone” proves to be soulful, clearly a throwback to the past. The chorus in particular is chocked full of soul. Glover’s vocals are gritty and drenched in effects, specifically pitch-shifted. With redbone, he’s referencing a “light skinned female mixed with black and another race.” According to Childish Gambino, he himself and numerous black dudes in general desire a redbone:
“But stay woke / N*ggas creepin’ / they gon’ find you / gon’ catch you sleepin’ (oooh) / now stay woke / n*ggas creepin’ / now don’t you close your eyes.”
“California” continues to show Glover’s eccentric genius…or just his eccentricity. He suggests “she must’ve f*cking lost her mind,” he seems to be the crazy one…for this song. Follow up “Terrified” continues ambitiously, with negativity highlighted at the jump (“There’s a bottom to the top of a moment”). Expectedly, the sound is mysterious, foreboding, and incredibly soulful. Vocally, Glover shines here, particular when he hits his falsetto.
“Baby Boy” ranks among the crème de la crème. Glover sounds incredibly raw and gritty here, arguably delivering his best vocal of “Awaken, My Love!” Thematically, he tackles parenthood, potential custody issues, and the broken family in which the child is often the victim.
“I don’t wanna leave you, I don’t want him to see you / but oh, when mama cries from daddy’s lies / oh my, please don’t take him away, no, no, no.”
After instrumental “The Night Me and Your Mama Met,” “Stand Tall” concludes the album. It is refreshing to hear clear vocals from Childish Gambino sans effects.
Although “Awaken, My Love!” isn’t the type of album most expected from Childish Gambino, it’s a terrific effort through and through. Glover steps outside of the box, delivering an album full of notable messaging. Sure, his fiery rhymes are missed, but he atones superbly with impressive sung vocals, effects and all.
Gems: “Me and Your Mama,” “Boogieman,” “Redbone” & “Baby Boy”