Donald Glover, oh how far you’ve come. I recall writing a piece explaining how unappreciated and underrated you were a long time ago, taking caution in informing the masses that while you were far from the average, the time devoted to your sound would without a doubt be worth it. The masses are blind in many ways, rejecting artists that may be too much of an anomaly to the idea of creating rhymes but you’ve defied the odds. You’ve taken the name Childish Gambino and turned it into a symbol of representation for unique and raw creativity in artist form. Without praising you, it’s selling you short to say you’re just another rapper, despite your two mixtapes titled I Am Just A Rapper and I Am Just A Rapper 2 .
Armed with a voice some may find annoying and an incredibly sharp tongue, the idea of Gambino’s flow was slightly bloated and misguided early on. To some that statement is debatable in itself, but it was clear from the release of his project known as Culdesac that Gambino was stepping up and establishing himself as someone who is serious about his music by displaying more honesty in his lyricism. This ingenious effort made him much more relatable while taking his nasally rhymes to new heights.
The “Yes, I’m a nerd in short shorts & I really don’t give a f**k because I’ll rap circles around you” type of flow proves to be Gambino’s niche while he puts it all on the line on other records growing from there to eventually release his latest project before the album, EP. Released through his website, it consisted of 5 tracks that only solidified his talent with music. Gambino does it all in this music business and as we arrive at this grand moment in his musical career, signed to Glassnote Records, he’s releasing his first project with them in stores which he calls Camp, with the intention to “tell a story” throughout his work and of course, be the best it can be as a reflection of himself. So as we make our way to November 15th, the question now would be, Is Camp Childish Gambino’s best project yet?
The dramatic opener titled “Outside” immediately lays out a flat white canvas and paints it with Glover’s story, describing how there’s always a struggle regardless of the level he’s ascended to in life. The booming beat provides a powerful stage along with the continuous harmony in the background that pushes Gambino forward, almost subliminally encouraging him to keep telling his story and he does so, pulling no punches on the honesty early on describing his father’s hard work and his mother’s strife. The track glides along the bridge with Gambino asking the listener if we can hear him now, possibly asking if we can really understand that there’s always more to his story, it’s never been that easy.
The boastful “Firefly” picks up right after the clear description of the struggle, leading us to a positive beat that somehow carries on Glover’s ability to flip between emotions as he tells his story but become more triumphant as he arrives at his moments of glory. The comparison between how things were before he took off and now that hes suddenly flying on the kite of fame are the focus of the track, and it’s appeal grows dramatically with each listen.
The reckless “Bonfire” starts with a blaring horn, one that should serve as a warning as it has nothing but pure lyrical punches flying left and right, showcasing Gambino in the way that his older fans know him best. He’s still not afraid to say things that other rappers wouldn’t be caught dead saying, and he says them in style. “My d*ck is like an accent mark, it’s all about the over e’s (ovaries)”, “…Eating oreos like these white girls that blow me” “I made the beat retarded so I’m calling it a slow jam” “I’m a beast b**ch Grr (Gir), Invader Zim” and “Brand new whip for these N*ggas like slavery” all pummel the chanting track in the very first verse with more cleverly rude lines laced in between them along the way. Fans of his hit “Freaks & Geeks” off of his EP will definitely feel this is in that lane but on steroids with a nice hook thrown in describing how he’s burning everything and I’m assuming leaving himself as the topic of discussion. Gambino’s never been more proud of his own sound and it shows here.
The next track calms us down while Gambino continues to expose some more of his own intentions and reflections in his music, speaking about things he’s done with women that he might not have been proud of and reminding us he is this way for a reason by basically claiming he was “making up for f*cks in high school”. While he does so however, he still manages to tell it with a clever mind state, conveying the idea that as talented as he is, he’s still true to this with all of his emotion. It’s great to see Gambino also acknowledge his awareness of the legendary NO I.D., mentions like that show he doesn’t believe he’s too removed from the game, but more waiting for them to take notice. “All This Shine” shows that he’s aware of his change as it’s happened and shows it in a different way than most care to overall, catching him in his current fame struggles rather than describing it after.
Gambino takes the instrumental from the previous track and strips it down leaving the violins as he uses it for the purpose of possibly persuading a woman into believing that she’s all he’s ever wanted and offering his hand to her. The instrumental succeeds in causing a feeling that reinforces his sincerity and the question can be asked if he was even possibly addressing Hip Hop in his “Letter Home”.
The techno influenced “Heartbeat” lets Gambino pour out how he feels about certain women over a bumping beat and his own hypnotizing hook. The situations seem to honest and unique for it to not come from a personal place and that in addition to the sound makes this a hit in it’s own right. In addition, Childish’s name shows a bit here with his own lyricism and not necessarily in a bad way with lines like “I’m going straight for your thighs like that cake you ate” and a few others that may not be taken seriously if you’re not already a fan.
Here we get Gambino focusing more on showcasing his lyrical ability with more self awareness than ever. The idea here is clearly directed at those who seem to act like they’re above his music or disagree with his sound just to fit in. With lines like “Change my ID for the cops it’s not enough yet, black male in short shorts I’m double suspect” “Fuck the cool kids, not Chuck English but people their hating on me makes them distinguished” “You better shut your mouth before I f*ck it, you really hate my lyrics now? Or Kid Cudi’s?” and “I’m lame as fuck homie, but I rap like these ni**as ain’t got shit on me”. The track’s beat compliments Gambino’s flow and considering he’s produced all of these beats himself, is that any surprise?
A wonderfully haunting beat powered by violins sweeps through as Gambino goes back and forth with a woman, analyzing the truths of his relationship with this woman he’s infatuated with. As they engage in any activity they choose in the bathroom Glover expresses that shes the baddest and while he hopes that no one catches them part of him wishes for the opposite, possibly validating him being with who he claims is the baddest. Possibly revealing that he still has more insecurities than he’d like to admit.
Serious issues are tackled on “Hold You Down” starting on what Gambino wanted when he was coming up and turning into the different views of him that everyone maintained as he grew up. As the beat carries on he looks at it through a scope that questions why African Americans are viewed the way we are. Powerful quotes fill the track like “Aiming at the throne, Jay and Ye said to watch that, they asked me what I’m doing and I said I’m stealing Roc back” as well as others that hit on a bigger scale but the track overall is carried on violins that stab as a important foundation to his perspective.
The next track is much lighter and follows Donald while he expresses how he wants someone special to “Keep Up” with him and his lifestyle while he keeps himself busy with all of his different projects. It’s soft spoken and lighthearted while still carrying the massage. Lyricism is decent here, but lacks more than the others in exchange for the message that’s more real.
The UCLA anthem comes in hard and raucous, and Gambino lets off like only he knows how to. One of those tracks where the whole story telling idea goes out the window and it becomes about killing the beat. With lines like “Shes an overachiever because all she does is succeed (suck seed)” being thrown around, you know from start to finish that he’s not pulling any punches. Especially on his last verse. You’re going to have to rewind it back a few times.
“Why these other rappers do shit stupid!?” is a stand out line in “Sunrise” which is a great reminder that Gambino’s entirely confident in his project regardless of how it may come across to others who might not get it. The track has drums hitting over a long note held specifically by a choir and it definitely serves its purpose. The unknown female singer at the end was a nice touch as well. You can tell from here that Gambino’s growing in terms of creating a record, making it more fleshed out and complete than other tracks you may hear these days.
“Now that’s the line of the century” Gambino praises his own craft as he comes in early and beats the track down with his own lyrical prowess and his harmonizing. The sounds blend and match so well it’s almost impossible not to have his melody stick with you but then the beat cuts and flips slightly as Glover tells a story of him at 13 with a girl he felt was special. The story shows a very honest but probably awkward Donald running around dealing with this girl he felt was right for him, enjoying the entire summer together while they’re at Summer Camp.
As time begins to wind down, Donald knows how he feels about the girl and finds it necessary to express how he feels about her then learns a lesson. I won’t ruin it too much for you but point is He doesn’t intend to give off the vibe that love is horrible or anything cheesy of that sort, he just learned to cut out the middleman and always tell everyone everything so that there would be nothing to tell anyone else. It’s a symbol in itself I believe, that represents how Glover’s loud personality represents him today. Childish Gambino isn’t afraid to tell it exactly like he feels it and why should he? He takes pride in the fact that everyone knows, believing in his lyricism and feeling that everyone should know how great he is, and that along with all of his emotions come across in his music.
The entirely self aware, sarcastic and edgy individual that is Donald Glover has an unexampled sound. The fact that his lyrics are the most honest I’ve heard in a while blows me away, considering we have artists like Drake who have made it cool or acceptable to be vulnerable in music now. That and his own ability to produce (which also shines brightly here) means this project is nothing short of great. Although shorter than Culdesac (his best project up until now), Gambino does manage to improve on damn near every level and show he has a sound he has made his own. Granted, every artist has room for improvement and this is far from the perfect album, as there are moments of weakness that don’t always keep my attention (Keep Up, although good, may have the listener lose focus on the project) among other little things, but the good out weighs the bad on this without a doubt. New listeners might be greeted a bit harshly by the project as it’s not as easy to get into as Culdesac or EP is but Regardless of what you may think, it is a fact that Childish Gambino succeeds in taking someone into his world while he tells his stories of life, love and Summer Camp. I’m ready to go back. Hopefully November 15th when the project is released in stores, you all will go to Camp with me, Glover surely deserves it.