This isn’t what we expected.
Maybe if you attended Donald Glover’s PHAROS concert, or if you took him seriously when he said that this project would be completely different, you weren’t caught off guard. Though, for most of the casual listeners, the switch from hip-hop to soul/funk/R&B is an unprecedented move. Being that Paper Boi, a central character on Glover’s his hit television show, Atlanta, produced rap music, it seemed that Glover himself would continue on this path. Nevertheless, the decision to switch from his original genre didn’t result in a flop; rather, “Awaken, My Love!” is a masterful collection of Childish Gambino’s premier work.
Like the cover art, the album’s leading singles invoke an otherworldly mood through their surreal beats and fluctuating vocals. The hypnotic beginning of the opening track, “Me and Your Mama,” entrances the audience by its soporific tone. However, a couple of minutes in, the song offers a startling yet pleasant transition into electric guitars and Glover’s shrieking voice. The vibe of the track mimics the vibe of the project in its entirety; a perfect blend of eccentricity and relaxation. Another highlight would be the album’s second single, “Redbone.” The track separates itself from the rest of the pack through its catchiness, ease of listening and soulful tune. The groovy harmony crafted by the instrumentals complements the artist’s heartfelt performance.
But aside from the superior quality of the music, what does the album really say?
From examining his last two albums, CAMP and Because The Internet, it’s clear that Glover likes to weave grandiose themes into his work. While “Awaken, My Love!” may simply seem like an ode to Glover’s newborn son and an account of his relationship with the mother, the topics of the prior albums are not completely lost either. “Boogieman” deals with issues of police violence, which fits into CAMP’s unapologetic exploration of Glover’s own experiences with his ethnicity. Additionally, the upbeat “California” deals with the complex connection between the internet and romance, a major theme of BTI.
In a sense, the “Awaken, My Love!” is an older, more mature version of Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book. Most of the songs on both albums, some more implicitly than others, either involve messages that involve the intricacies of fatherhood, reflections on current or past relationships or perspectives on certain aspects of the music industry. The main point of differentiation is the depth to which Gambino conveys his emotions. While less verbose than Chance, Gambino utilizes the clever mixture of concise words and funky beats to deliver small but potent messages. In “Zombies,” Gambino and Arkansas singer Kari Faux offer an interesting parallel between the titled creatures and an unknown group through chanting, “We’re coming out to get you/We’re all so glad we met you/We’re eating you for profit/There is no way to stop it.” While the target of the song is never explicitly stated, the paparazzi and overzealous fans who try to creep their way into Glover’s personal life seem to perfectly embody the lyrics. Deviating from that tone, “Baby Boy” explores Glover’s fear his complications with his girlfriend interfering with the relationship that he has with his newborn son. He glumly coos “Don’t take my baby boy/Don’t take my pride and joy,” expressing his disdain with his current situation while exposing his inability to change it himself.
So yes, that was unexpected. As a huge fan of Gambino, I was hoping too for another track list that contained a bunch of witty raps that make you do the equivalent of an aural double-take. But as a huge fan of Gambino, I also know that his talents are not limited to making timely puns. Throughout multiple mediums, he has exercised the ability to weave significant messages into his work. To belittle this new album for its deviation from the norm undermines the masterpiece that he and co-producer Ludwig Göransson created. Just as Taylor Swift’s decision to switch from being a country star to a pop sensation led to her creating some of her most popular works, Glover’s channeling of his soulful side led to his most artistic album yet. No other genre of music can fully project the shades of gloom and layers of vulnerability that Glover exhibits. Ultimately, “Awaken, My Love!” provides listeners with a funky view of the world through the eyes of the artist.
Jonvi Rollins is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.