If you don’t know who Donald Glover is, let me give you a small history lesson. He’s an EMMY winning writer, stand-up comedian, and plays Troy on NBC’s critically acclaimed comedy, Community. Before all of that, you might know him from the Derrick comedy sketches, including Bro Rape and Spelling Bee (some of my favorites). He was also an indirect influence on the death of Peter Parker in the Marvel comic Ultimate Spiderman. Obviously, the writer/actor/comedian is clearly making a very impressive resume for himself.
Now, let me introduce you to Childish Gambino a.k.a. one of the realist rappers in the game today. If he isn’t making lyrical disasters that references everything pop culture, he raps about his real life, including his Jehovah’s Witness mother and Tina Fey being a role model. Now, after releasing countless free EP’s (not to mention his free album Culdesac), it was time for him to break out from the underground scene. And I couldn’t find a better way to do so with Camp, his first major label LP.
Camp combines the best parts of his earlier material, and spins it into some of the best rap tracks I’ve heard all year. His first single “Bonfire” is something like “Freaks and Geeks 2.0,” referencing everything from Human Centipede to Casey Anthony (one of my favorite lines in the entire album). “Heartbeat” is an upbeat rap song, with huge dance undertones. “You See Me” is a huge callback to some of his earlier songs, which ends in one of the fastest (and lyrically best) verses I’ve heard this year. “That Power” is a perfect way to close the record, having one of most creative lines I’ve ever heard (Who in their right mind references French director François Truffaut in a rap song?).
One of the best parts about this album happens to be its production. Ludwig Göransson, who also does the score to Community, incorporated real instruments into each song on Camp. Whether it be violins (“L.E.S.”) or choirs (“Outside”), he makes Childish sound incredibly different from the other mainstream artists.
The biggest difference between Childish Gambino and other rappers is his true honesty. He will talk about himself getting picked on, or how women now see him as money rather than just a person. He’s rapped in an earlier track that if he were to lie, that would be his last one. If that’s true or not, who knows, but the sincerity that comes out of his voice on some tracks (“Kids (Keep Up)” especially). That is an incredibly rare quality in today’s rap music, and I’m happy that Gambino can move to a major label yet not swaying from this rather unique attribute.
Childish Gambino successfully transformed into a mainstream rapper without swaying from what he is. He could have trashed his huge internet following and put out a record that would sound like anything else. He could even be starting a million different beefs with other rappers just to get more hype. But of course, he does not talk, he is just a rapper.
Final Grade: A
Go Download: “Bonfire,” “Sunrise”