November 15, 2011 - Glassnote
Better known as Troy Barnes on the NBC sitcom Community, comedian Donald Glover has been cultivating his hip-hop alter ego, Childish Gambino, for the past four years, taking the Odd Future approach to music—he's self-released a number of full-lengths, EPs and mixtapes for free download, winning over thousands of people along the way. Unlike the Los Angeles horrorcore troupe, though, Childish Gambino's music is far classier, forward-thinking and pop-minded, with Glover's raps littered with just as many nerdy pop-culture references as heart-wrenching confessions or acts of sexual depravity. A bulk of Camp finds the MC diving into his id; "You See Me," "Bonfire" and "Backpackers" are vicious, with grimey beats and rhymes that effectively dismantle haters while also hyping Glover up as a hip-hop kingpin who sleeps with whoever he wants and is recognized wherever he goes. Glover's super-ego is well represented, too, as he doesn't hold back emotionally, candidly discussing his childhood on "Outside" and his faults on "All The Shine." Some tracks on Camp bounce between the two polarites with glee, as on "Heartbeat," where Glover's sweetly sung, emotional chorus is in stark contrast to the straightforward, blunt, borderline narcissistic rapped verses. The track feels like a lost Kanye West jam, from its conflicting emotions to the banging beat.
Childish Gambino is a product of not just modern hip-hop, but post-modern hip-hop, drawing influence from forward-thinking MCs like West, Lupe Fiasco, Common and Talib Kweli. Beats contain elements of vintage funk, hip-hop and R&B while sampling modern sounds, and Glover isn't afraid to sing all over the record (and luckily for us, his voice is strong enough to avoid any use of Auto-Tune). But what makes him shine over so many of his contemporaries is the realness of his lyrics. While at times it feels like some of his sexual escapades might be played up in that typical hip-hop braggadocio way, Glover ends Camp with an intimate portrayal of himself, as the last four-and-a-half minutes of "That Power" turns into a monologue on the rapper's first experience with love, heartbreak and betrayal—all over the course of a bus ride back from summer camp. It's incredibly—almost uncomfortably—honest, and it explains the previous 52 minutes of wildly divergent emotions perfectly. Childish Gambino is more than just a rapper, and Camp is more than just an album: It's a stone-cold classic.