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There's no one quite as hot in the hip-hop world right now as Childish Gambino is. Mr. Donald Glover announced his third record Awaken, My Love! at the beginning of November, and now it's out and it is quite the surprise.
There's not much that could've pre-empted you for this record. It's not what you may have expected from Childish Gambino, but at the same time it still feels intrinsically like his own record. Awaken, My Love is more of a funk and soul record than it is hip-hop (Glover's host genre), so it is a departure. This was the direction that he looked to be traveling in, though. It's not Because The Internet, nor is it Camp. If anything, it's closer to his Kauai EP. What's best about the record, perhaps, is that it is its own entity and sound.
This record is a new chapter in the story of Donald Glover. This is true thematically and stylistically. Awaken, My Love! is an album about love, being served in many different forms. From an overarching view, this album is for Gambino's son. The title itself references a birth; that tense but joyous wait for your newborn child to open their eyes or to cry for the first time. Other song titles also reference "your mama" and 'Baby Boy,' further giving credence to this theme.
The theme of love and life occurs in each and every song separately, though. There's not really one specific topic that the album clings to, but each song has something to say. Lead single 'Me and Your Mama' opens the record, its spiraling Radiohead synths adding a modern touch to the old-fashioned, blues rock instrumental the song has. The lyrics tell the tale of how difficult love can be, and how those against it encumber those who have fallen victim to it. The first verse chants, "They wanna see us fallin' apart! / You know that I love you! / So let me into your heart," Glover begging his lover to stay with him and open up to him despite the world being against them.
The poppier, rawer 'California' follows up on love, Glover criticizing a girl who wants to life a free and fun life in California. She then gets in trouble and despite his initial distaste, the narrator too wants to go there to have a good time. The song has a distinct accent on it, the instrumental too sounding different from the rest. It's simply a fun song - it's not serious by any means, flowing with groove and oozing with sweetness. 'Terrified' follows up, immediately taking the tone back to a dark one as things start falling apart when the couple encounters several hardships.
Any fan of Childish Gambino will know that he is always making a statement. On Awaken, My Love!, when he's not singing about love, he's making a statement about life as a black man. Several songs on the record have this call-to-arms vibe, perhaps understated as a result of the infectious funk. 'Have Some Love' begins with a gospel choir soulfully chanting "Have a word for your brother / Have some time for one another / Really love one another / It's so hard to find," Glover's vocals coming in afterwards, sounding paranoid and distraught. The song's groovy bassline makes the song's vibe feel more significant than the words, shadowing the meaning in the best way possible. It takes two listens to absorb it. There are other songs that ring with more urgency. See 'Boogieman,' where the refrain barks "With a gun in your hand, I'm the boogieman / I'm gonna come and get you" as sung by a blues choir. The song's soulful guitar riffs ring with purpose, the vocals this time showing that they have significance amongst the layers of the song.
It all ends with 'Stand Tall.' The sweet instrumental 'The Night Me and Your Mama Met' prefaced the track, sweet strummed guitar that ends each bar with a quick punch of sweet wah. 'Stand Tall' has two distinct parts to it. It begins quietly with bass and guitar, Childish Gambino coming in to sing about a lesson his father taught him when he was young. That lesson is told in the hook: "Keep all your dreams, keep standing tall / If you are strong you cannot fall / There is a voice inside us all / So smile when you can." The somber tone of the first half is then brought up to something more upbeat and celebratory, the same lyrics repeating but with more appreciation. It's a sweet sendoff to the record that brought love and hate together into one soulful experience.
Awaken, My Love! is a departure of sound, but a solidification of conviction. Childish Gambino is an artist in the truest form. This entire album is one big risk, but it pays off brilliantly in the end. It's not the hip-hop we're accustomed to from him, but its a dark, moody, and groovy soul and funk record that has emotional and political connotations. Just when you thought it may have been over for Donald Glover, he comes right back, and with flying colors.
Favorite Tracks: Me and Your Mama, The Night Me and Your Mama Met, California, Stand Tall
Least Favorite Track: Riot
Rating: 84 / 100
Donald Glover is a lowkey legend. His acting career is just starting taking off, and in the midst of it all, he's about to release his third record as Childish Gambino, entitled Awaken, My Love. Not only is the record a surprise, but it seems to be a departure from his original sounds, as well.
The first single he's shared from the record is called 'Me and Your Mama,' an expansive six-minute long track that blends blues and rock in a dark and aesthetic way. There's a lot of passion and sensuality packed into the one track, and that core message takes many paths.
The song is introduced with a sparkling pianos akin to Radiohead's 'Daydreaming' with various sounds pounding the bass and a higher one that swims through the falling stars the piano creates. The ethereal choir chants "I'm in love when we are smokin' that la-la-la-la-la" over the intro, referencing Gambino's addiction to marijuana and the implications it has on love.
The song proceeds into its hook and verses, thick guitar carrying them through with bluesy, southern genius. Gambino sings passionately, screaming with both sensuality and pain as the song slowly but thoughtfully progresses. The R&B flair combines beautifully with the old-fashioned blues rock vibe the song has, and Gambino electrifies the song even further with his delivery. The song's intensely emotional core gives way to a peaceful instrumental conclusion that revels in a blues improvisational piece that you hear in black & white, the synths adding a modern touch to it.
The song can be interpreted in two ways. One takes a look at a bigger picture that encompasses the album, while the other takes a personal delve into the track's lyrics. Taking a look at the tracklist for Awaken, My Love, it looks like Glover is writing to his son. Songs like 'Baby Boy' and the similarly titled 'The Night Me and Your Mama Met' are found in the tracklist, and the title itself seems to be a call to his newborn son. Perhaps this album will be a life lesson, of sorts; maybe 'Me and Your Mama' is a sort of warning. The song itself is about love, or rather, how difficult it can be. Glover tells his girl in the first verse: "They wanna see us fallin' apart! / You know that I love you! / So let me into your heart," begging her to let him in, regardless of what everyone else wants. He goes further in a reference to Smokey Robinson and Outkast in the bridge, chanting "Girl you really got a hold on me / So this isn't just puppy love," claiming he knows his love is real and more than just an idea. He wants her.
Childish Gambino is about to change the game. December 2nd is when Awaken, My Love drops, and 'Me and Your Mama' really shows it. It's a brilliant song, bringing Pink Floyd and James Brown together into a simplistic but powerful track. Donald Glover is a artistic genius, and it's about to show.
Rating: 89 / 100