The first reports of Atlanta rapper Childish Gambino recording a new album were met with fanfare from his loyal fanbase. It is important to mention Gambino is a rapper from Atlanta alongside acts like Migos and Rae Sremmund, because the correlation ends there. What they share in location, they lack in musicality.
Gambino has created a niche of his own with hyper-confessional and creatively driven albums that sound more like cohesive concepts than albums full of standalone tracks. He has been a stalwart in a genre that is becoming increasingly rinse and repeat. His previous album, Because The Internet, featured a more vocal sounding artist alongside his usual rapping. For some it came as a surprise that Gambino’s r&b-based tracks were as good as his rapping songs. “3005” became his first hit and gained him notoriety, but the album as whole showed true signs of progression as an artist.
Both his last album and mixtape, Kauai, released in 2014. He took a brief two year hiatus while he focused on his acting career. With sprinkled music appearances here and there, one appearance on “Like A Version” stood out from the rest. His cover of Tamia’s “So Into You” struck a cord with r&b lovers because his version was as good as the original. We all hoped that a more vocal Gambino would arrive on his next album.
In an interview that appears in an August issue of New York magazine, he spoke on the goal in creating the FX show Atlanta. “I wanted to show white people, you don’t know everything about black culture.” And this notion has extended to his new album Awaken, My Love! An album that lacks the sound of today, and seeks the past to display what it truly means to be black.
And Gambino arrived at a conclusion this year. He would do what he wants with his platforms how ever he pleased. Awaken, My Love! is a return to funk when we need it most; The first album post Trump-election that stands out. The two singles sounded like a catalog from 1977 and deviated from his usual formula; Yes there is singing on his new album but its foreground is the funk-inspired production. “Me and Your Mama” proclaims that Gambino has arrived as his own artist. He tapped into his inner-soul and hopes to inspire fellow black artists. They must seek musicality and look to the past to inspire the future.
There is a clear influence on this album besides the often-mentioned Sly and the Family Stone. A young Prince echoes in “Redbone”, one of the two stellar singles. In other songs he looks to George Clinton on tracks like “Boogieman”. What became clear by the tenth track of this psychedelic album was its intention. In previous albums, they were meant as a personal experience made for you and your headphones. Starting with the Pharos Experience, this album is meant as a spiritual awakening. A spiritual experience intended for crowds of people. He achieved this even before the album was released and it is more clear now that we have the final product.
The true standouts in this album are “Stand Tall” and “Baby Boy”. “Baby Boy” is more soulful in its sound, and a better fitting closing track. The song reminds us of a simpler time. “There was a time before you, and there will be a time after you” said Gambino on the waining moments of the song. This notion wrings true in today’s world. He successfully gained new fans and alienated some core fans, but in doing so he re-introduced the world to lost heroes of the 70s.
Time will tell if Gambino has decided to reinvent himself as a more-soulful and trippy counterpart to Frank Ocean, or if this was just an experiment in a year that he has dominated.