Most people are familiar with Donald Glover from his role on NBC’s show Community, but under the rap moniker of Childish Gambino (created through a Wu-Tang name generator), he releases his fourth studio album and first commercial release entitled Camp today (November 15).
Throughout the 13-track album, Childish Gambino addresses criticism from his haters on topics ranging from not being “Black” enough or “'hood” enough to being called “gay” and “soft,” stemming from his career as an actor and comedian. On multiple tracks, he addresses the criticism on whether he is “Black enough,” such as on “Hold You Down” where he shares how “This one kid said somethin'/ That was really bad / He said I wasn’t really Black/ Because I had a dad.” Dealing with the expectation to fit in with the rest of the rap community through every facet, he stands out whether he likes it or not. However, it turns out that he does ‘like it’ and embraces his differences, using them to his advantage.
As an actor, Childish Gambino plays a goofy character on Community and was previously a member of the YouTube starring comedy troupe, Derrick Comedy. He addresses both his past and his weirdness on “All The Shine” when he asks, “Is there room in the game/ For a lame who rhymes?/ Who wears short-shorts/ And makes jokes sometimes?” He is unafraid to just be himself, no matter how different he may be. In an industry full of people who change the way they act because of what others think, his music comes across as refreshing and his differences make for both thought-provoking and enjoyable songs.
Childish Gambino goes from topic to topic in a versatile lyrical manner, and he demonstrates his ability to come hard on a track with clever wordplay and punchlines. He also shows the ability to slow it down on a few romantic tracks on the album, including “Kids” and “Letter Home” on which he sings “You’re the only girl/ I have ever wanted / Every other girl/ Is trying to be you” over a violin instrumental. Singing on these tracks, his voice fits the song and the production perfectly. Another popular topic on the album is his love or fetish for Asian girls and on “You See Me,” he raps “Forget these white girls / I need some variation / Especially if she very Asian”.
On the last track of the album, “The Power,” he tells the story of his bus trip home from summer camp as a kid. In the story, he spills his feelings with a girl that he liked and had spent the summer with at camp. She then goes on to share everything he said with her friends, who subsequently make fun of him as they exit the bus. He shares how that experience helped him learn to tell everybody his secrets, so nobody can go around sharing private things that he said because everyone already knows. This mindset is present throughout Camp as he puts his feelings, thoughts, reactions to criticism, and emotions on full display for all to hear.
Production-wise, Camp is all over the place. However, this works in Childish Gambino’s favor, as it allows him to display his versatility as a rapper. Tracks such as “Bonfire” (produced by himself along with multiple other tracks on the album) contain an onslaught of snare drums and guitar. Another drum heavy track, “You See Me,” turns up the horns and the bass, while lighter tracks such as “Letter Home” is composed of only the violins isolated from the previous track “All The Shine”.
On “Heartbeat,” a somber sounding piano tune develops into a synth-induced electronic beat accompanied by upbeat drums, further demonstrating the diversity of Camp’s production. One of the highlights on the album in terms of production is “Hold You Down,” which begins with an encouraging piano, followed by a well-timed handclap, which is complemented 45 seconds into the song when the quiet drums kick in. The strings in the break that follow the chorus prior the start of the second verse are a microcosm for the production of the lighter tracks on the album.
Overall, Childish Gambino’s first commercial offering proves that he isn’t just an actor rapping for fun. He’s been taking music seriously for years, and Camp goes far in displaying Glover’s talent as a rapper. By embracing his differences, he is able to craft lyrically unique tracks, and through his effort on Camp, he has managed to establish himself as a distinctive and rising artist in the Hip-Hop/rap genre.