By Braxton Randolph
As you all may have heard by now, the old Childish Gambino is no more, at least for now. If you anticipated Awaken, My Love to be a continuation of the backpack raps we’re accustomed to when it comes to Gambino then congratulations, my friend! You’ve played yourself. If you payed attention last year, Gambino hinted on an interview on The Today Show that there would be changes to come when it came to his music. He said he felt as if Childish Gambino was a period that should come to a close, but never ruled out making music. To me, this was a clear hint of the new sound from Gambino that we get on this album.
Fresh off a successful first season of his hit TV show Atlanta, which has been renewed for a second season set to premiere in 2017, Gambino showcases a new sound that The Roots’ Questlove had to wake R&B legend D’Angelo up at 4am to listen to, and described it as “a trip to Detroit circa 1972 at United Sound Studios.” In other words, this album is dripping with every bit of R&B and soul that our parents raised us on. The album also features elements of psychedelic rock music, especially with the instrumental track “The Night Me and Your Mama Met,” which features a sultry electric guitar solo that represents the night Donald met the mother of his child.
The album samples various songs from 70’s artists such as Bootsy Collins and Isaac Hayes. These influences, which also include the likes of P-Funk and Funkadelic’s Maggot Brain (which Gambino has stated his appreciation for in the past), are also very clear in the tone of the album. “California,” which is said to bear resemblance to Mungo Jerry’s “In the Summertime,” seems to be the fan-favorite so far. This song captures the upbeat, care-free vibe that everybody who doesn’t live in California seems to associate with California. You would think at first listen that Gambino alters the pitch of his voice in this song, along with a few other songs, but in the first interview since the album’s release, Gambino explained that he used no effects to alter his voice; rather, he just sang “in a different way.”
My personal favorite part of the album is “The Night Me and Your Mama Met” and the track that follows, “Stand Tall.” As explained previously, “The Night Me and Your Mama Met” is an instrumental interpretation of the night Donald and his son’s mother first met. The first time I heard the vibrations of the electric guitar rift through chords of the acoustic guitar and background vocals, I almost shed a thug tear. As for “Stand Tall,” it is an encouraging song about advice that Donald’s parents once gave him. The premise of the song is pretty much summed up in the title, but Donald’s vocals and the catchy melodic cadence make this a song very much worth listening to. While there is a lot of greatness packed in this album, there are a couple songs worth skipping. I’ll try not to influence your thinking by telling you; rather, just know you have been warned.
For a lot of people, including myself, Donald’s execution of his TV show Atlanta brought a new appreciation for his music. In times like now where people are arguably more interested in an artist’s persona than the actual music, this makes perfect sense. In a way, he had earned a fresh start and a chance to get away from the redundancy of his old sound and create a whole new lane, which is exactly what he did. Yes, there will be some people who will claim it’s “too different” from his previous work and will write it off because of that. Let’s just let those people enjoy their Drake and Taylor Swift collabs and Top-40 radio stations.