“Awaken, My Love”: What the hell is a Childish Gambino anyways?

No seriously, Donald Glover could confuse a chameleon with how fast he changed colours.

One moment, he’s a rapper. The next, he’s making music straight out of a P-Funk playbook on acid funk.

So without further ado, welcome to the new Childish Gambino, ladies and gentlemen.

From the opening notes of “Me and Your Mama” to the abrupt ending of “Stand Tall,” the artist now formerly known as Gambino charts new spaces in funky places for any intrepid psychonaut wishing to make a trip.

And really, the actual production value is an immaculate conception throughout the entirety of “Awaken My Love.” Cuts like “Have Some Love” recalls a spooky yet socially progressive Funkadelic, while “Boogieman” and “Zombie” feature the screeching guitars of a horror movie before “Redbone” recalls the carnal candy sounds from Marvin Gaye’s later career.

And the latter just cashes in as chronic case of sugartooth for the ears. If “Me and Your Mama” blew me away at first, “Redbone” brought me back for seconds, thirds, fourths and fifths with instrumentation and the lyrics:

Too late/
You wanna make it right, but now it’s too late/
My peanut butter chocolate cake with Kool-Aid/
I’m trying not to waste my time.

But here’s the rub: between all these sweet shifts and twists lies Gambino’s vocal performance. I’m not saying it’s terrible. But it might rub people the wrong way. It can be grating instead of gratifying at points.

And where the album shifts and twists, Gambino’s voice will screech and holler. Outside of most of the second half of the album, it doesn’t even sound like singing.

I mean why, Gambino, why?

Ok, I guess I understand why—it sounds like he’s been studying from the Anthony Kiedis book of vocal performance. He’s using his voice as another textual layer and I have two opinions on the performance.

Critically, his vocal chords sound like they try to torture themselves on “Me and Your Mama,” “California” and a bevy of other cuts. I had to wonder if he was singing with a nail-filled neck. And this can backfire on some of his production, strangling curious cuts into thoughtless thought experiments rather than fully formed statements.

Personally, however, I actually kind of like his performance now that I have acclimated to it. Thus, my advice is to let this album age. Before long it becomes, well not a fine wine, but a much smoother drink at least.

So is it bad this is probably his best album? Eh, not necessarily. For a somewhat routine rapper, he turns out to be a formidable funkman. But his attempts to synthesize a socially progressive album on the level of DeAngelo or Kendrick falls short.

He’s hampered by a couple end tracks that leave something to be desired and a vocal… thing that he attempts for more than half the album with roughly a 40% accuracy rate.

But hey, that’s good enough to be considered a legitimate roleplayer in the NBA, so it’s good enough for one’s first funk outing. If anything, the worst outcome for this album is disinterest—if Gambino drops funk as soon as he found it, I would be genuinely disappointed.

For now, Gambino took a tip from K.Dot and got the funk. I just sure as hell hope he keeps it.

Grade: C+

“Awaken My Love” by Childish Gambino

  1. “Me and Your Mama”
  2. “Have Some Love”
  3. “Boogieman”
  4. “Zombies”
  5. “Riot”
  6. “Redbone”
  7. “California”
  8. “Terrified”
  9. “Baby Boy”
  10. “The Night Me and Your Mama Met”
  11. “Stand Tall”
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