Childish Gambino confidently trades rap for funk with his latest release, writes James Gill
Released December 2nd via Glassnote
Donald Glover has flourished in 2016 with his casting as Lando Calrissian in the upcoming Han Solo Star Wars spinoff alongside his critically acclaimed show Atlanta. Now, Glover — aka Childish Gambino — is back with a brand new album. Straying away from the almost juvenile rap of his previous projects, this latest effort is heading in a new direction.
Although hinted at in his Stn Mtn mixtape, Awaken, My Love is straight vintage funk. Gambino carefully creates a unique and easily distinguishable barrier between himself and others reviving seventies funk of old such as Chance the Rapper. There is clear inspiration drawn from the likes of Eddie Hazel and Bootsie Collins, the latter of which he samples in the track ‘Redbone’. Perhaps the worst aspect of the album is that it might make up the subtotal of his escapades in the genre.
Even though Gambino is toying with an older sound, he approaches it with new production using electronic elements such as autotune, which is applied very tastefully. The instrumental talent is notable, using clean percussion beside funky bass riffs, as well as some exceedingly well-executed solos. Overall the music production is spotless, but also very diverse, with the sensual ‘Redbone’ among darker songs such as ‘Zombies’ and ballads like ‘Baby Boy’.
The flow of this album is worthy of praise with a distinct separation in tone between the first and second halves. The first half, with its energetic and punchy songs contrast beautifully with the deeper and more emotional tracks on the second. Gambino seems to be heading towards a more developed sound than his previous material, however the two are not entirely comparable due to the change in genre. The lyricism especially has seen a large shift in maturity, from references to issues for black men in today’s America on the track ‘Boogieman’ to talk of the crumbling relationship with his child’s mother on the track ‘Baby Boy’.
Nevertheless, there are some flaws with the album, primarily the track ‘California’. The vocals are strained and overly autotuned leading to an irritating moaning sound which is disappointing due to the potential in the funky keyboard and bass riffs. Furthermore, Gambino sometimes overwhelms the accompaniment in songs such as ‘Boogieman’ in a manner which is reminiscent of his previous work and the track ‘Riot’ seems underwritten and ends suddenly, which throws away the initial promise it creates.
Awaken, My Love demonstrates the versatility of Gambino in entering a new genre. Whilst not being perfect, there is ground to believe that this project is able to hold its own against more established funk and soul artists such as Anderson .Paak. There is a solid basis for expansion in future work and it would be a crying shame if we see this genre abandoned in his return to rap.