His FX show Atlanta is critically-acclaimed, he’s the future Lando Calrissian; talent has handed Donald Glover a blank cheque. Save for his Pharos performances in the Mojave Desert earlier this year that Glover himself described as “a shared vibration for human progress”, no-one quite knew what to expect for the future of his musical alter-ego Childish Gambino.
Breaking new ground in rap back in 2008 with his cutting-edge and hyper-referential lyricism that never had to fall on the tropes of the genre, Childish Gambino was a well needed breath of fresh air. Flashforward to the present day and Gambino has returned with a sound that can’t be pinned to any of his previous efforts, but instead is a bombastic and soulful work that never outstays its welcome.
Working with long-time collaborator and Community composer Ludwig Göransson, Awaken My Love is a broadly different approach to the song-writing of Camp and Because the Internet. The ferocious rapping on past numbers like ‘Sweatpants’ has given way to funk basslines and an abundance of Wah-wah pedals. Inspired by childhood memories of listening to The Isley Brothers and Funkadelic with his dad, Awaken My Love is a departure from the “very written” Gambino of old as the man himself puts it.Instead his third effort is “an exercise in just feeling and tone”, featuring writing credits from notable musicians such as Funakdelic’s George Clinton. There’s barely a fragment of his past left, with Gambino rising from the ashes like some sort of Funk Phoenix.
Opening track ‘Me and Your Mama’ is a sublime piece that starts off light and soulful before roaring into life when Gambino takes to the microphone. Showcasing his newfound vocal style that mirrors the likes of soul greats such as James Brown and Charles Bradley, there’s also a vestige of Prince in the marriage between guitar and voice that permeates the entire album.
His uncompromising attitude towards lyrics are as present as ever, with ‘Zombies’ rallying against art and soul being consumed for profit. ‘Baby Boy’ can be seen in the same vein as ‘Hold You Down’, dealing with similar themes of fatherhood; ‘Don’t take my baby boy/Don’t take my pride and joy‘.
Awaken My Love is a product of mood and atmosphere that is only accentuated by its funk and soul instrumentation and vocal arrangements. Whilst not every track is a stand out masterpiece, the album perfectly encapsulates the feelings of love, jealousy and fatherhood that only Gambino’s new musical direction truly could. If you had any worries about the future of Childish Gambino, it’s safe to say we certainly aren’t in the darkest timeline.