Why Childish Gambino is one of the current Kings of Hip Hop

Donald Glover is an artistic force to be reckoned with. And I mean artist in every sense of the word. He’s an actor, singer/musician, director, TV and film producer, music producer, comedian and a writer. He’s like a septuple threat (yes, I had to look that up)! It’s like the guy can’t help but create something from somewhere.

His latest music video for “This is America” went viral in a matter of days and has been the centre of many memes and parodies, cementing it’s status in the 2018 pop culture canon. The clip is a commentary on the violence and race relations in the US, with many facets and interpretations. I’m not going to comment on the clip, I think there is already a lot of dialogue about it and the issues it raises, which is a good thing. I’m not American, and don’t fully understand the subtleties and whatever else of the issues they currently face. But I would like to talk about Childish Gambino, and some of his previous works!

Obviously, this clip has caused quite a stir, and as such, a boost in sales of Gambino’s debut and sophomore albums, Camp and Because the Internet. At the time of their release, they were not particularly well received. Pitchfork gave Camp a pitiful 1.6 rating. Perhaps it was his comedic and acting career that hampered his ability to be regarded as a serious rapper, as if because of this, he didn’t appear to have the “street cred” necessary to be taken as such. Perhaps it was a direct result of the lyrics from All the Shine: “But Pitchfork only likes rappers who crazy or hood, man.” (I guess we did see). Or maybe it was the fact that, for some reason, people can’t cope with the idea of getting a rap name from a Wu-Tang Clan name generator. I must strongly disagree with this last one, I am already looking into getting my name officially changed to Shriekin’ Overlord.

Luckily for me, my view on Gambino wasn’t tainted by my perception of him as a comedian or actor, I had no idea he was Donald Glover, let alone that he played Troy Barnes in Community. When I did finally find out, there was definitely an adjustment period, but I’ve managed to merge these two people in my head, and the result is someone more nuanced and interesting as an artist than just another rapper.

So here’s my opinion.  I’ve been a fan of Childish since Camp, and have enjoyed watching the evolution of this character. Camp could be described as a little immature, he has some pretty cheesy one-liners, but they’re mixed in with hard hitting topics about race and masculinity, challenging what the perception of a rapper “should” be. His lyrics aren’t as aggressive and offensive as some of his peers, which, while I do enjoy a lot of rap and hip hop now, has always been difficult for me to reconcile. I was definitely a late adopter of hip hop and rap. I’m ashamed to admit it. But albums like Camp helped bring me to the table, and allowed me to cut my teeth on what I think most people would agree is a somewhat softer side of hip hop. We have the 2017 limited edition vinyl reissue in our collection, which, from what I read, is generally better quality than the first pressing. The album comes as 2x 180g LPs, with side D being composed entirely of bonus tracks not featured on the CD, or other vinyl releases. The packaging is a high quality and super glossy double gate-fold, and includes a booklet of photographs of dear, trees and Gambino running through the wilderness, which look like those taken by a child at summer camp. You can pick up a copy of Camp here.

Because the Internet was a logical progression from Camp, with more polished production value and tighter hooks. Here he seems to become more self aware in his lyrics. He also plays around with how the music is presented. This album was released as the accompanying soundtrack to a screenplay, and short film titled “clapping for the wrong reasons” was also released at the same time. It may be described as self-indulgent, but I think it’s juts Glover using all of his creative outlets. Another album alone wasn’t enough. This really adds new dimension to the music. This vinyl is again released as a 2x 180g LP set, which features the 72 page screenplay. It’s a meaty package, which again is high quality, the cover is metallic and shiny, and the record sleeves are beautifully printed with an intensely colourful graphic. my only complaint is that the records and screenplay tend to fall out of the the outer sleeve if you’re not super careful. If you need a copy of Because the Internet, you can find it here.

His third album Awaken, My Love, however, is a complete left turn into something much more funk-filled and musical. It’s a stunningly produced and curated album that also demonstrates Glover’s impressive vocal range. Again I see it as Glover not being satisfied with what the moniker Childish Gambino was providing his creativity with. He’s pushing the envelope of that character and what it means to him. Anyone who can reinvent themselves and their sound to this extent is someone pretty special. For this album we have the box set which comes with 2x 180g LPs and a pair of VR glasses for the content released alongside this album. It’s also pressed at 45 RPM for that audiophile quality. The packaging is absolutely luxurious, the cover glows in the dark and the sleeves and accompanying artwork are amazing. The box set is currently not available on Amazon.com, but you can get the regular LP here, or the box set from Amazon Australia here.

Each one of these albums has something special and unique that accompanies it, and there is no expense spared in the quality of the pressings and packaging. I’m really excited to hear what he has in store for his latest album, hopefully dropping later in 2018. I feel like Childish Gambino is really hitting his stride now. Fingers crossed this won’t be his last release.