I’ve been following Donald Glover’s career since 2006 when he was a part of Derrick Comedy, making Youtube shorts. I remember showing all my high school friends videos like Bro Rape, Hip Hop, and Jerry Poops His Pants. It certainly isn’t high brow, but they were doing something unique on a brand new platform before it became ubiquitous. After they stopped making videos, Donald fell off my radar until he began writing on 30 Rock and appearing on Community. His music started to peak my interest when I heard Because the Internet, STN MTN/Kauai and his feature on Chance the Rapper’s Acid Rap. It was clear that his delivery had progressed past the nasal quality of his early work and he was proving himself to be a charismatic and engaging performer. Since then he’s amassed a huge following and had a breakout year with his TV show Atlanta. When I heard he was making a funk record, my hopes for new music from Gambino skyrocketed.
Long story short, Awaken, My Love let me down. This is the direction I wanted from Childish Gambino, but the execution held it back. In the background, this album is nice to listen to. The production is funky and spacious and the vibe feels correct. It was when I sat down and listened closely that I heard a lot of incomplete songwriting, lackluster instrumentation and downright perplexing vocal delivery. To me it feels like the project is trying to do its best Sly & The Family Stone/P-Funk homage without the urgency or tightness that those bands had. There’s nothing wrong with a laid back funk record, but the songs need to be better for that to work. Granted, there are some good songs here. Redbone and Have Some Love definitely will be making the rotation, but the rest of the tracks are too half-baked or overly meandering to be considered a great.
I hate to hate because I would much rather see an artist try something new, something challenging and come up short, than to successful and mediocre. I don’t need to hear rappers treading water, doing what’s comfortable and expected of them. On the other hand, I don’t think it’s helpful to praise every artist who steps outside of their box without critiquing their work on its face. This project is a huge surprise for me and there are some great moments, but overall it lacks the consistency it needs to be a great Childish Gambino album. That being said, I will continue to check for new music from Gambino. I have a lot of respect for his artistry both as a musician and a visionary. You have to give it up for a man who creates a TV show like Atlanta in the same year that he releases an album that is this abrupt of a left turn for his musical career. I want to see Donald Glover continue to try new things with the ambition he’s showing here. I can’t wait to see or hear what’s next.