Ever imagined what it must be like to wistfully float through outer space? Aimlessly drifting throughout the stars and solar systems, you would have the view of a god, an unrivaled feeling of superiority. Enveloped by the surrounding cosmos, you would be the sole audience of an unexplored frontier. This is the stargazing odyssey that Childish Gambino’s new album, Awaken, My Love!, undertakes.
Childish Gambino, also known as screenwriter and actor, Donald Glover, has forcefully made his presence known throughout the entertainment industry. Gambino’s opening album, Camp, helped the young celebrity earn his right of passage as an artist. Gambino’s 2013 album, Because the Internet, provided a glancing peek behind the curtain of Gambino’s pseudonym. With his EP, Kauai, Gambino forgoes rapping as he explores summer romance and nostalgia. Diverging from any previous album, Awaken, My Love!, showcases Gambino’s unnatural range and adept ear for musical arrangements.
Awaken, My Love! opens with a syrupy harmony presenting a twisted love ballad. Brimming with synthesizers and mellow undertones, the foundational beat of Gambino’s album would be worth listening to by itself. Embracing the funkadelic guise, Gambino glides and swings his way through syrupy melodies all the while maintaining his mellow nature. Think 808’s and Heartbreak if Kanye could sing. Over the course of Awaken, My Love!, Gambino’s varying vocal impersonations draw comparisons to Prince, George Clinton, and Andre 3000.
At first listen, Awaken, My Love! is a near fifty minute journey through the silky sea of soul. Upon a second, third, and fourth listen, the album morphs into a commentary, allegory, and conceit while still retaining its Gambino-esque themes of racism and class. With his new album, Gambino elects to leave behind the bars and witty rhymes that propelled him to his current level. His funkadelic, hip-hop exposé allows Gambino to fully immerse himself in his vocal melodies. Feeling more like a stream-of-consciousness than anything else, the album brilliantly cultivates a narrow personal scope, yet serves as a primary latch-able work of a tumultuous 2016 year.
Beginning with an aggressive opening song, the album sets an initial tone reminiscent of Camp. Awaken, My Love!’s first half consists of quirky guitar strings and boastful drum beats. Boogieman and Zombies stir emotional fantasies similar to those of an ignorant youth. Redbone, the year’s identifiable funk anthem, begins the shift into a dream-like trance evolving into the album’s latter portion. The buoyant California provides a relaxed break following the gravity of Redbone. Culminating in Stand Tall, the album ends with a slight question mark. Is Gambino’s new album a model for the post-millennial generation? Is it his magnum opus? Or is is simply an enthralling body of work that adds another genre to Gambino’s name.
Awaken, My Love! caps off Donald Glover’s most ambitious year yet. In a year that involved Glover committing to two major motion pictures: Spider-Man: Homecoming and an untitled Han Solo spinoff, as well as directing, producing, and starring in his T.V. show: Atlanta, Glover’s latest album completes his tour de force over entertainment. Glover’s evolution from an unproven twenty-year-old writer for 30 Rock to a two-time Grammy nominated artist and a critically acclaimed television director is virtually unmatched. Glover’s true talent shines in his ability to appeal to multiple genres and cultures simultaneously.
Glover has reached the point where he has escaped the last name he carries and the entitled label often attributed to him and his work early in his career. He has overcome the perceptions of being misjudged. Stepping out of the box is his mantra as he allows his creativity to blend with and seep through multiple mediums. Glover has never been one to flow with the current of mainstream and Awaken, My Love! demonstrates this beautifully.