Childish Gambino boldly heads in a new sonic direction

Jake Rehfeldt, Staff Reporter
Originally published January 24, 2017

You may know Childish Gambino from his popular 2013 rap album “Because The Internet”. This new album might as well be a completely different artist. “Awaken My Love” there is not a single song on this project with a 16 bar verse full of the quippy remarks that he has become known for in his rap. This album is a straight up funk album. For most Childish Gambino fans, this album will likely be unlike anything in their rotation, and Gambino’s intention was likely to introduce his fans to the sound that he has recognized in multiple interviews as his biggest influence, the band Funkadelic. However for anyone who has listened to Funkadelic (and for that matter Bootsy Collins, Rick James and Prince) this influence may be slightly to close to plagiarism.

“Awaken My Love!” is at its best when Gambino puts a fresh take and modern production value on tracks with a funk influence. the singles “Redbone” and “Me and Your Mama” are the best examples of this. “Me and Your Mama” evolves from an undeniably groovy slow jam into a showcase of Gambino’s infectious vocals and an equally infectious electric guitar riff. Redbone pulls off head nodding funk so well that is elevated to the level of its influences. Unfortunately, not all of the songs on the album fare as well. Having listened to more funkadelic than Gambino, “Have Some Love” and “Boogeyman” are uncomfortably close to mimicry, and it really doesn’t feel like he brings anything new to these same ideas that George Clinton had 40 years ago. “Have Some Love” is a blatant appropriation of Funkadelic’s “Can You Get to That”, minus one of the best funk riffs of all time, and minus the unreplicatable groove Funkadelic had at its peak.

The rest of the album has almost bipolar highs and lows. “Riot” is forgettable, “Zombies” is poorly written, and the way Gambino sings is endlessly irritating. “California” not only has a poorly executed cheesy surf vibe, and aggravatingly awful vocals, but also makes no sense in terms of cohesion on the album. Luckily, the last four songs on the project are really some of the best, and “Baby Boy” is almost on the level of the singles.

Although this project does have several rough patches, it is exciting to see Childish Gambino head in this direction because the high points could not be better. Donald Glover has established himself in the last half decade as a truly unprecedented dual creative force in music and television. I believe his potential is huge and this album is by no means a masterpiece, but is a step towards greatness.

Production: 8
Vocals: 6
Lyric: 6
Concept: 7
Significance: 7

Overall: 34/50