Friday, November 18, 2011

Album Review: Childish Gambino - Camp

Album Rating: B+
Donald Glover, AKA Troy Barnes, AKA Childish Gambino. This man is the proverbial triple threat in entertainment today. Acting, comedy, and rapping, Glover dominates in everything he attempts to do. While acting first put him in the limelight, his rapping career as Childish Gambino has taken off in 2011. A free EP ignited the buzz that got him signed by Glassnote Records, leading to his first commercially released record. Camp is Glover at his most creative; his punchlines are more aggressive than ever, the production is top notch, and his brutal self reflective honesty is emotionally tiring. All of this establishes Childish Gambino as budding superstar in the rap/hip-hop scene.

Glover's ethnicity is a common lyrical topic throughout Camp. Instead of looking back on a "hood" lifestyle, he talks about the expectations and stereotypes that people put on him for being black. In "Outside", he looks back on his life growing up, and how his parents worked "two jobs so I can get into that white school" as well as to get him out of the hood before he was exposed to the horrors and life-damaging situations. The gospel chants assist him in showing a primary characteristic of being black, guiding a listener to understand that "hood shit and black shit is super different" and that being black doesn't mean they act "hood". "Fire Fly" speaks to how being a nerd harms him even more because he's black, simply due to the fact he doesn't fit any of the stereotypes. Due to his unexpected behaviors such as being "the only black kid at a Sufjan concert", he "used to be called "Oreo" and "Faggot"." "Hold You Down" is his bluntest statement of the racism and stereotypes put on blacks, saying that they basically fall into a self-fulfilling prophecy by listening to the expectations, holding back the ones that actually try to break out of those common beliefs. Glover has been held down because of the "oxymoron" of being a nerdy black kid, and his success is guided by his intent to break free of these bonds.

Childish Gambino performs with a live band, and the production on the album definitely reflects that.  Working with Glover is producer Ludwig Goransson, a jazz musician and the composer for the score of Community. Goransson had worked with Glover on his older material, but his classical background shines through on some of the more elaborate compositions on Camp.  On "All The Shine", handclaps lead the rhythm while a wall of strings supports the somber feel that Glover's lyrics and flow suggest. The majority of the instrumentation and beats from "All The Shine" drop out and leave only the strings for "Letter Home", keeping the same rhythms and putting them behind Glover's surprisingly sweet croon. "Heartbeat" leans to the other side of the spectrum in regards to production, as it closely resembles an intense club beat. Bassy synths and a drum machine keep the song's "heartbeat" beating, while Glover raps with passion and force. "Heartbeat" may come as a shock to listeners that prefer Childish Gambino's more sophisticated tracks, but as a club banger, it could reach the top of the charts.

But the aspect that defines Childish Gambino are his punchlines. First single "Bonfire" is absolutely chock-full of them, and it includes some of his wittiest and most controversial one-liners to date. Glover's self-consciousness about being black is non-existant in "Bonfire", as he proclaims "'You're my favorite rapper now' dude I better be / or you can fuckin' kiss my ass Human Centipede." Glover has no fear in using a cultural reference no matter how offensive and startling it could be, as he simply states he "made the beat then murdered it. Casey Anthony." "You See Me" could be Glover at his most insane, going hard over an extremely bass heavy beat while rapping about "Asian girls everywhere, UCLA." But even at his craziest, Glover's rhymes are pure Childish Gambino, as Glover's persona allows him to say these things without any second thought.

The ending monologue of "That Power" is what makes Childish Gambino and Camp special. Over a simple loop of guitar and violin, Glover tells the story of him at age 13 meeting a girl at summer camp. He wants to tell her he likes her, but isn't able to. When he finally does, she tells all her friends and he becomes the joke of the bus. Glover then narrates "I got on the bus a boy. And I never got off the bus. I still haven’t." This simple line about being "childish" is something that everyone can relate to. Ultimately, the reason everyone loves Childish Gambino is that he's one of us. He's a down to earth human being just like everyone else. And that's the universal appeal of Camp.


Track List:
1. Outside
2. Fire Fly
3. Bonfire
4. All The Shine
5. Letter Home
6. Heartbeat
7. Backpackers
8. L.E.S.
9. Hold You Down
10. Kids (Keep Up)
11. You See Me
12. Sunrise
13. That Power


  1. This turned out pretty good, Casey.

  2. Nope that wasn't me. Pretty solid review though.

  3. This article is reads like the author hated writing it and just wanted to get it over with/turn it into the professor/take whatever shit grade they could get/forget about it. The fact that it's a 'glowing' review of a shit record by a shit rapper doesn't help. Give up.