Artist: Childish Gambino
Countless amounts of actors and actresses have attempted to make the transition from a career in front of the camera to a career behind the microphone, only to fail miserably. History tells us that the switch is easier made the other way around. Just look at artists turned actors like Will Smith, Mos Def and Ice Cube while people like Bruce Willis, Steven Segal, and Eddie Murphy (excluding this underappreciated Rick James produced gem) definitely made a fool of themselves trying to pick up the mic. However there are a few actors who have been able to make the shift with ease and enjoy success in both film and music. Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Lopez and Drake all thrived on the screen before they thrived in the studio and you can go ahead and add Donald Glover aka Childish Gambino to that list as the actor/comedian/rapper/singer’s latest album Camp is a commendably cohesive body of work and one of the better projects of 2011.
One of the most admirable aspects of Camp is the fact that Childish Gambino is able to touch on an assortment of topics ranging from family, relationships, race, personal growth and more all while staying within the confines of the theme of the album, which of course is summer camp. He is able to discuss these topics in superb lyrical fashion on songs like “Outside”, “Fire Fly” and “Hold You Down”. “Hold You Down” deals with the delicate subject of racism in a tremendously conscious manor when Gambino spits honest lyrics that speak for them self like “This one kid said something that was really bad / He said I wasn’t really black because I had a dad / I think that’s kinda sad / Mostly cause a lot of black kids think they should agree with that” and “My fear is dead ambition drove the hearse / But n*ggas got me feeling like I aint black enough to go to church / culture shock at barber shops cause I aint hood enough / we all look the same to the cops aint that good enough”.
In addition to all the real talk regarding racism on “Hold You Down”, Gambino brings up an interesting point when he says that he “aint hood enough”. Perhaps it’s due to his acting past, but some people might say that Donald Glover aint hood at all as he is much more easily associated with the hipster scene opposed to the streets. There’s no better proof of this than the song “L.E.S.” which is an ode to the hipster capitol of the world, the lower east side of Manhattan. Glover more than accurately depicts the neighborhoods growing population of young people that think they are too cool for school with lyrics like “you’s a hipster b*tch / but not in the lame way / like you aint living out in BK / like you aint working on a screenplay / like your baby daddy aint a DJ / like she listens to old freeway / cuz everybody listens to biggie, but she different”.
While Childish Gambino’s conscious commentary on songs like “L.E.S.” and “Hold You Down” definitely deserves praise, one could make the argument that Gambino’s best lyrical work on Camp comes in the form of boasting about himself on the albums first single “Bonfire”. “Bonfire” contains a hard beat consisting of loud electric guitars and an air horn that is sure to get you hyped when Gambino spits heavy hitting punch lines like “made the beat than murdered it, Casey Anthony”. Yup, not only does this dude rap and sing but he also makes his own beats making him a true triple threat, which is a pretty rare commodity in any genre of music, especially Hip-Hop. Tracks like “All The Shine” and “Heartbeat” successfully display Gambino’s skills as a rapper, singer and producer.
The production on Camp is just as diverse as the lyrical content. No matter what mood you are in, there is a song on this album that you will be able to vibe to. The gully rawness of the horns on “You See Me” makes it the perfect song to wile out to, while an ambient xylophone gives “Kids” a much more chill and intimate feel to it. Despite the fact that the different beats convey completely different emotions, Camp still has a sonically cohesive sound to it, which is best appreciated if you listen to it in its entirety. I say this because there is not one song on this album that is not worth listening to.
Camp concludes with a cut called “The Power”. “The Power” ends with a lengthy dialog spoken by Glover where he describes the bus ride coming home from summer camp, and his words symbolize a number of themes found throughout the project. It’s a little cheesy but it’s a fitting way to end an album with so much to be taken from it, as Camp is one of the most well rounded bodies of work I’ve heard in quite some time. I’ve never seen any episodes of NBC’s Community, the show that Donald Glover is best known for. However, I might have to start watching it because if Glover’s acting is anything like his music, than that show must be pretty f*cking good.