Childish Gambino - Awaken, My Love!

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

Bruno Mars - 24K Magic

The king of funk is back, but perhaps not with flying colors. Bruno Mars is here with his long-awaited comeback to 2012's Unorthodox Jukebox with his third record 24K Magic.

Bruno Mars is known for his infectious groove and bombastic style, and 24K Magic is much the same. Lead single '24K Magic' opens the record up, and our opinions since our review of the track in October remain largely unchanged. The upfront vibes and 90s instrumental really sells his funky composure. It's a groovy song and has a very original sound to it, and all signs pointed to a successful record.

Sadly, 24K Magic is somewhat of a letdown. Bruno Mars' confidence is taken to an almost obnoxious level, exuding cockiness rather than groove. Many songs are ruined by this; 'Perm' has some great vocals but the lyrical content is a true facepalm moment. 'Chunky' is much the same -great sonically, but the lyrics are just a bit too left-field, while the sentiment may not be the worst. The album ends on a far too bombastic note, as well - 'Too Good To Say Goodbye' has an 80s formula, but Mars refuses to stop belting by the end of the song, where it could really use a nice mix of falsetto in there. The song builds nicely, and while a bit cliché, it misses that punch and dynamic that could've made it a strong ending.

The album does have quite a bit of soul to its credit, though. 'That's What I Like' brings in some sensual vibes paired with his soulful timbre. 'Versace On The Floor' follows through with some pure soul vibes, instrumental et al. It screams 80s, complete with a synth solo. It's a sweeter track, falling in line with 'Calling All My Lovelies,' but does everything better. 'Calling' is much too slow and the odd Halle Berry sample is a bit off-putting. The strongest track on the record is 'Straight Up and Down,' which combines Mars' swagger and soul flawlessly and with purpose. The vocals are great while still maintaining a sweet mood, not being overly confronting and upfront like other tracks. This is the middle-ground this album should've sought out.

Bruno Mars' return to music is a bit too much. Many tracks are solid, but very few are standout tracks. 24K Magic a jumbled blend of swagger and soul and never holds on to the compromise between the two. Bruno Mars is back, though, and hopefully that means it won't be too long a wait until he progresses onto the next one.

Favorite Track: Straight Up and Down

Least Favorite Tracks: Calling All My Lovelies, Perm

Rating: 52 / 100