By Kieran Bowie
2016 has been an incredible year for Donald Glover; his TV show Atlanta was a huge critical success; he was cast as Lando Calrissian in the upcoming Han Solo film, as well as being confirmed for a yet to be announced role in the Spiderman reboot Spiderman: Homecoming. To top a stellar year off, Glover has released Awaken, My Love! under his stage name Childish Gambino, a follow up the game-changing Because the Internet.
From the off, it is vital to mention that Awaken, My Love! is vastly different from anything Gambino has released to date. After multiple listens of the album, it is difficult to place Gambino’s latest work within a particular genre. There are clear R&B, funk and soul characteristics within the work, but the way Glover has combined them feels fresh by any standard. There is even a strong gospel feel to a lot of the tracks, such as Have Some Love and The Night Me and your Mama Met featuring glorious floating gospel harmonies. Whilst this lack of easily identifiable style from the off can mean that Awaken, My Love! isn’t the easiest listen through, the way Gambino seamlessly weaves styles gives the album a unique feel that you just don’t hear that often.
In a year where a lot of artists could be accused of playing it safe, continuing to release material that barely differs from their previous work, Childish Gambino has done anything but. Gambino has made a brave move straying so far from his typical hip-hop sound for Awaken, My Love!, fans of his previous two albums can in no way expect to enjoy Awaken, My Love! in the same way. But it’s risk takers like this that eventually move a genre forwards, and it’s relevant to point out that Awaken, My Love! could very easily become the catalyst for a full movement incorporating a jazz, soul, and gospel sounds for an entirely new generation.
It’s a mixed album in itself as well, no two tracks take from the same inspirations, and feel like individual pieces tied together by an intro and outro track that are the clear high points of the album. Other stand out’s include Boogieman complete with the heavy guitar riff providing a groove that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Prince record. It was said about Jimi Hendrix that he would make his guitar talk, and the guitar in the outro track of the album, The Night Me and your Mama Met, is powerful and allows the song to tell a story despite there being no lyrics.
In this sense, it contrasts with the way the album opens with Me and Your Mama, which was also the first single from the album, and feels like three songs in one. The first with a slow tempo and vocal stabs opens the album slowly, creating a foundation on which the rest of the album is built. The middle section dominates the track, exploding into a kind of white-hot rage around, complete with a guitar that feels like it was lifted straight from a Black Sabbath record. This is accompanied by Gambino showcasing his impressive vocal range. The final section is a stark contrast again, having a stripped back feel with the synth soloing over the top. Me and Your Mama is a paradigm of the album as a whole, as its three contrasting sections exemplify the variety of genres and styles that are on show across Awaken, My Love!
Gambino isn’t one for modesty, with lyrics from previous albums declaring ‘Gambino is a mastermind’. Whilst many older Gambino fans will argue that he has released better music than Awaken, My Love!, the fact that it is so different from anything he has released before and yet is still to such a high standard proves that Gambino might actually be as talented as he regularly claims. No matter what it is Glover is doing, you won’t find many people better at pulling it off.