Album Review: Awaken, My Love! by Childish Gambino
Great, Based on 22 Critics
Exclaim - 90 Based on rating 9/10
Sometimes, history repeating itself is a good thing. In a complete departure from his previous work, Childish Gambino conjures '70s psychedelic funk, soul, rock and R&B on his third studio album, Awaken, My Love!.There is nothing subtle about the album's style. Gambino and longtime collaborator Ludwig Göransson fully immerse themselves in the past, summoning memories of Prince, Isaac Hayes, Pink Floyd and Parliament with such ease that you'll pause several times to make sure you're not listening to a remake.These blatant imitations would be comical if Gambino's vocals weren't so surprisingly strong.
Is omnitalented a word? Because Donald Glover is omnitalented. Actor, screenwriter, director, stand-up comedian, all to acclaim. Childish Gambino is his musical alias, where he raps, produces and sings, to acclaim, and "Awaken, My Love!" is his third album, released, surely, to acclaim. God damn it Donald, you’re making the rest of us look bad.
Childish Gambino has always been a character first. He's another alias with attributed lines and a carefully constructed personality that Donald Glover has added to his lengthy artistic resume as an actor and screenwriter. The name was initially produced from a Wu-Tang name generator, after all. And through past projects like 2011's Camp and 2013's Because The Internet, Donald used the constructed rap identity to deliver commentary about his seemingly recluse place as a privileged creative in a culture attributed to the essential come-up.
We’re currently living in the days where being an MC isn’t nearly revered as being a caricature. Almost all musicians associated with Hip Hop’s present era have to be equipped with some sort of quirk to get ahead. As genetics would have it, Donald Glover and/or Childish Gambino is that quirk by default. From arriving on the scene spitting fiery raps in testicle-threatening shorts to becoming that reclusive heartthrob who attracts attraction from everyone across the entertainment spectrum, his trajectory into music notoriety has been an interesting one.
Childish Gambino is the moniker of rapper/actor/screenwriter/comedian Donald Glover. If you’ve never listened to Glover’s music, you’ve likely seen him on Community, or watched an episode he wrote of 30 Rock or engaged with his latest creation, FX’s Atlanta. None of those ring a bell? Then you’ll surely you’ll know Glover after he plays a young Lando Calrissian in the upcoming Star Wars Han Solo film.
Over the course of a backpack's worth of mixtapes and a couple of albums that won him commercial success, if not critical acclaim, Childish Gambino (aka Donald Glover) staked a claim as one of the brainiest, weirdest, and most inventive rappers around. His 2015 EP Kauai widened his approach a bit, with Glover doing more singing than rapping in a hazy modern R&B style, showing off a voice so smooth that it's almost unfair that one guy can have so much going for him. While working on his new TV series, Atlanta, Glover and his longtime sidekick Ludwig Göransson seem to have had some kind of musical awakening brought on by late-'60s dipped-in-psychedelia soul and early-'70s earthy funk.
Not content with adding the young Lando Calrissian to his acting CV (in a future Star Wars film), the Renaissance actor/TV writer/rapper born Donald Glover has also taken his former hip-hop alias – Childish Gambino – into new realms: retro-futurist funk. His target on Awaken, My Love! is the sense of stack-heeled possibility that imbued the early 70s, cut through with the squelch of fear (Zombies), the bittersweetness of non-custodial fatherhood (Baby Boy) and the voice-processing of the present day (California, Stand Tall). Throughout, Glover’s genre fluency is unimpeachable; the only minor drawback is the overmannered air of some of these period pieces, where there could be more straight-up abandon, as on the persuasive Me and Your Mama.
These days, Donald Glover is somehow cramming rap, music, film direction, an acting career, and stand-up comedy into the picture. From the goof-about wordplay of his debut album ‘Camp,’ to the slightly impenetrable, genre-clashing agenda of the follow-up, ‘Because the Internet’, Childish Gambino has proved himself a restless presence across the board. As soon as he seems to master something, he’s racing onto the next medium or form.
Given that he’s the creator/star of a TV comedy – the brilliant Atlanta – that’s embedded in the world of hip-hop, you’d be forgiven for expecting Donald Glover to cover similar territory with his musical alter ego Childish Gambino. Indeed, his previous album under that name, Because the Internet, did just that. For his follow-up, though, Glover decided to run a mile from the genre: instead, Awaken, My Love is a prog-tinged funk opus situated somewhere between Sly and the Family Stone and Unknown Mortal Orchestra.
Whatever you think of his skills as a rapper (and the debate is certainly fierce), Donald Glover is a fantastic performer. Whether that means delivering lines as Childish Gambino or Troy Barnes, he’s a compelling presence. Proponents and detractors of Because the Internet and Season 4 alike should all agree that Glover’s emotional performances prove fascinating, even if you aren’t into the content he’s using that power to convey.
By now, the world knows who Donald Glover is. From “Community” to the sharp and universally beloved “Atlanta” to his forthcoming Star Wars role, he’s carved out his persona; he’s likable, sensitive, and observant, the self-aware everyman. But Childish Gambino has always been harder to pin down. Since emerging with throwaway mixtapes under that alias, Glover has released two highly self-reflexive rap full-lengths, a Southern rap EP and a straight pop EP, and hosted a mysterious, cell phone-free festival.
We’re now at the point where any discussion of Donald Glover can, depending on the publication, refer to him as a musician who acts rather than an actor who dabbles in music (or vice versa if the piece is discussing his work as an actor, of course). Rather it’s time to stop thinking of him as one or the other and appreciate his multifaceted talent for what it is. With any luck, Awaken, My Love! will finally afford him the respect as a musician he so richly deserves.
Even though Donald Glover's been in the spotlight for nearly a decade now, trespassing across careers in comedy, writing, and music, he is only now really discovering his voice. This year saw the release of his fantastic FX series Atlanta, and in many ways his third record as Childish Gambino, "Awaken, My Love!," was crafted with the same unconventional creative spirit. The results are just a little less even.
You could argue that Childish Gambino became a great hip-hop artist when he stopped rapping, but that would be unfair. Over the course of two albums and a handful of mixtapes, the artist also known as actor and screenwriter Donald Glover has proven himself a decent lyricist. However, his best moments on his 2011 debut Camp arrived when he threw out the humblebrag playbook and exploded our stereotypes of black youth by addressing bullying and growing up in a two-parent household.
It's hard to look at the colorful cover art of Awaken, My Love!, Donald Glover's third release as Childish Gambino, without seeing the screaming female head of Funkadelic's apocalyptic masterpiece Maggot Brain. The cosmic atmosphere and winking title of lead single “Me and Your Mama” make the association even clearer: Awaken, My Love! is heavily indebted to and inspired by Maggot Brain, at times a disturbingly close read of Funkadelic's loose-tempo funk, full-family choruses, and winding song structures. Instead of rapping, the ever-chameleonic Glover acts as a yelping bandleader and groovemaster, and the album tests whether his reinvention of 1970s funk is sophisticated or merely secondhand.
Donald Glover can’t sit still, or at least it seems that way. With his new television series Atlanta in circulation, it’s ever more proof that the man has an aching desire to penetrate every art form he can. Under his musician alias, Childish Gambino, he has already released two studio albums and one critically acclaimed mixtape prior to "Awaken, My Love!" The latter of his previous two studio releases, Because the Internet, rightfully received a Grammy nomination for Best Rap Album and currently is on the cusp of being a platinum release.
It is hard to say whether it was always a game of chess, but if it were, Childish Gambino, a.k.a. Donald Glover, had the game plan all along. How does one go from being known as a comedian, a writer on 30 Rock, and an actor on Community to a multifaceted star in the truest sense? Take a hiatus from comedy to focus on music, appear in legitimate dramas, write a hit TV show about music, and then drop an album with relatively little rapping, instead showing flashes of Prince in the year of his death.
Childish Gambino 'Awaken, My Love!' (Glassnote Records)Donald Glover’s got serious game, right? Comedian, Hollywood actor (The Martian, soon-to-be Spider Man: Homecoming and Star Wars), producer and lead of TV series Atlanta and, as revealed on album number three, slick, swagger-dripping soul, blues and funk crooner. There were splashes of singing on last album ‘Because The Internet’, but nothing like this. ‘Awaken, My Love!’ sees him shrieking lyrics and oozing class throughout, the record licked with a vintage touch.
This year, the actor Donald Glover has been showing his face much more than his alter ego Childish Gambino. Glover has been busy giving fans the critically acclaimed 10-episode dramedy Atlanta this fall. On the music side, he released the virtual reality smartphone app Pharos and performed in a desert while embracing his inner warrior. Atlanta even sparked the conversation about a solid, new African-American TV renaissance.
Donald Glover — actor, comedian, writer, producer, rapper, songwriter — has set himself a complex cultural project: to both embody current African-American culture and reveal it to the wider world. He has done that on albums under his musical alias, Childish Gambino, and also as the driving force of “Atlanta,” the superb TV series on FX on which he is an executive producer, writer and actor, presenting a street-level corrective to the glamour-and-guns hip-hop fantasies of “Empire. ” “Awaken, My Love!,” his third album as Childish Gambino, takes a sharp turn: from rapping to full-time singing and from contemporary production to unabashed throwback.
With this year’s debut of Atlanta, the delicately-crafted and critically-acclaimed FX series about black life in miniature is what brought Donald Glover to light as an auteur, a genius who could thrive on the screen and on tape … theoretically, at least. His music as Childish Gambino, in which he plays the character of an impulsive rap outsider with a knack for wildly misfiring punchlines (“If I’m a faggot spell it right / I got way more than two G’s”), has been polarizing. His debut effort Camp’s self-seriousness turned him into joke fodder for most critical circles; Because the Internet fell apart because of its muddled concept (some shit about Internet trolling and Abella Anderson), though it suggested Gambino’s potential didn’t lie within misanthropic raps but in stargazing pop.
There’s a line from Santigold’s genre mashing, self-titled debut where featured MC, Spank Rock makes the assertion “Just know I’m doing something you ain’t/And that’s plain.” In the case of Santi White, she very much was, drawing together punk, hip-hop and new wave in a fashion that felt both familiar yet fresh. The delivery of such a line in a song titled “Shove It” hammers the point home, that White couldn’t care less of your opinion because it doesn’t match what she has to say. Donald Glover, aka Childish Gambino, is now doing something that’s plainly not him, per se, and shoves it in your face.