Oh boy! Something good coming from someone named Donald this week? Who’da thunk it?
Childish Gambino has always sort of been lumped with a lot of other so-called “alternative hip hop” artists, which in 2016 basically means the quirky rappers that artsy white college kids really love. Being an artsy white college kid, however, I think Gambino’s music has never really fit quite into that. It always seemed to me that Mr. Glover was trying for something a little different than what his chosen genre would allow. His 2013 album Because The Internet, while jam packed with the punch-line-a-second rap that we all came to enjoy, seemed like he was stretching for something more conceptual. Unfortunately, Because The Internet, at least in my eyes, never really pulled that together well enough for the concept to shine in the way he must have wanted it to, and felt more like a collection of good tracks connected by some not so interesting interludes. In addition to the conceptual angle, there was also a sort of stretch towards an R&B style crooning that really showed itself in Gambino’s surprisingly good singing voice. A couple of years later, hot on the heels of his new show “Atlanta”, we see him abandon hip hop almost entirely for an expansive, six and a half minute, multi-part retro-soul track. Pretty audacious for a lead single in my opinion. The whole thing can sort of be divided into three sections, and each, while maintaining the same rhythmic structure, carry drastically different stylistic variations. The first two minutes seem like a sort of intro, which is fitting as this is reported to be the first track on the album. But this second section is where the brilliance lies. Tethered by a swaggering guitar riff that would make Tony Iommi proud, and backed up by a swelling gospel choir, Gambino is belting like we’ve never heard him before. It’s probably most intense we’ve ever heard him, and he even channels James Brown through the sort of frenzied voice crack that Mr. Dynamite himself was so fond of. This part is probably one of my favorite musical moments I’ve ever heard from Gambino. It sort of sounds like classic Motown session musicians collaborating with Black Sabbath. After that, the whole thing chills out a bit and the song vamps itself out on a jazzy variation on the same musical motifs of the second section. What can I say, I’m a sucker for these proggy, suite-styled tracks, and this reads like R&B’s answer to Radiohead’s “Paranoid Android” or The Beatles’ “Happiness Is A Warm Gun”, with a musical texture just as varied as those songs. Color me excited for the album.