Childish Gambino’s ‘Awaken, My Love!’ Shouldn’t Be Slept On
Donald Glover is the modern Renaissance man. He’s a writer, actor, rapper, comedian and recently, a showrunner with FX’s hit comedy-drama, “Atlanta.” With the release of “Awaken, My Love” on Dec. 2 from Glassnote Records, he’s added the title of “rock star” to his résumé. Still performing under his alias created from an online Wu-Tang Name Generator, Childish Gambino continues to evolve in his artistry with his third studio release.
From his early days of Lil’ Wayne mimicry and nasally delivery to the highly introspective, Grammy-nominated “Because the Internet,” Glover has mainly operated with rap as his preferred medium when it comes to music.
However, he’s never been a stranger to lending his vocals on the track. On his latest album, Glover’s polished timbre and falsetto glide against sensual bass grooves, futuristic sound effects and aggressive guitars throughout.
Several tracks premiered at his live, multi-day event named Pharos, where Glover invited fans to camp at California’s Joshua Tree National Park this past Labor Day weekend. Fans were treated to an advanced screening of “Atlanta” and performances of, at the time, unreleased music from Gambino dressed up in glow-in-the-dark tribal paint and a grass skirt.
In its production, Glover worked with long-time collaborator and friend Ludwig Göransson, John Armstrong, Chris Hartz, Ray Suen and many others.
“Awaken, My Love!” opens up with lead single, “Me and Your Mama.” The six-minute track opens quietly with wind chimes, synth beats and a female backing choir. An aggressive guitar and rolls of percussion rumble as the song transitions to the hook and verses. After the outro, the instrumental slowly lets out like light rain after a thunderstorm.
In today’s increasingly divided society, Glover promotes love and solidarity on the George Clinton influenced track, “Have Some Love.” His plea for peace echoes in the hook: “Have a word for your brother / Have some time for one another / Really love one another / It’s so hard to find.”
Electric guitars charge on “Boogieman,” a track tackling racially-motivated fear: “If you point a gun at my rising sun / Though we’re not the one / But in the bounds of your mind / We have done the crime.”
Kari Faux makes an appearance on “Zombies.” The two illustrate individuals that feed off of others’ success as mindless parasites: “We’re coming out to get you / We’re all so glad we met you / We’re eating you for profit / There is no way to stop it.” The outro exits into an emotional guitar solo, full of wah-wah and electric cries.
The second single of the album, “Redbone,” submerges itself in syncopated drumming, a slap-happy bass line and an overall soulful, sonic landscape mirrored by weary expressions of infidelity: “But stay woke / N-ggas creepin’ / They gon’ find you / Gon’ catch you sleepin’ / Put your hands up on me.”
Earlier this year, it was revealed that Glover became a father. “Baby Boy” expresses the complicated relationship between him, his newborn son and the child’s mother, as well as the fears and doubts that accompany fatherhood.
The 50-min experimental, genre-fused album closes out with two-part track “Stand Tall.” The first half wraps itself around warm guitar chord progressions and a backing choir. Flutes blow, carrying the track into the second half to reveal an auto-tuned Glover. Throughout, the instrumental evolves as the lyrics maintain the idea of perseverance: “Keep on your dreams, keep standing tall / If you are strong you cannot fall.”
Imbued with psychedelic soul, Glover channels soulful, Funkadelic vibes on “Awaken, My Love!” The album doesn’t, however, feel like a cheap pastiche. Instead, Glover uses elements of P-Funk as a vehicle to drive music beyond familiar territory to unexplored dimensions as he comments on society and his personal life. Gambino steers away from delivering calculated, clever wordplay to evoking raw and intense emotions.
Fans hoping for “Awaken, My Love!” to be akin to past projects won’t get what they expect, but they shouldn’t be afraid. It’s important to note that this album won’t be for everyone, but it showcases Glover’s musical craftsmanship and innovation as an artist. A line from “Candler Road” off of 2014’s “STN MTN/Kauai” EP best describes his sonic trajectory: “They want the old Bino so they try to rewind / The new Bino too ahead of his time.”