Donald Glover has been releasing music under his stage name Childish Gambino since 2010 and has created a reputation for his witty, fast-paced lyrics, but his newest release is a step in a new direction.
Gambino’s newest release, “Awaken, My Love!,” woke the music world up with an electric shock. The third studio album is out of the ordinary, even for an artistically diverse person like Glover.
The 11-track album begins with “Me and Your Mama,” a funky Motown-esque piece with jazzy undertones. The song starts with two minutes of soft female vocals repeating the line “I’m in love when we are smoking that la la la,” until the vocals are abruptly stopped with a deep, ominous laugh.
Gambino’s voice enters at this point, washing away his fast-paced rap style and replacing it with his previously unheard deep and melodic singing voice.
The song describes a tumultuous love, eluding to the theme of the rest of “Awaken, My Love!” which touches on the struggles of love, race and violence.
This struggle is brought to the listener’s attention in the third song, “Boogieman.” The instrumentals in this track bring on a feeling of nostalgia with a delicate mix of classic hip-hop, Motown and soul strung into one piece. It feels much more reminiscent of Marvin Gaye’s work on “What’s Going On” than Gambino’s previous music.
As Gaye did, Gambino touches on the struggles of race in America as he sings, “If you point a gun/at my rising sun/though we’re not the one/but in the bounds of your mind/we have done the crime.”
These lyrics fit into the narrative of police brutality and how it disproportionally affects black bodies. The track reminds listeners to keep sight of the issues as the year comes to a close.
Midway through the album is “Zombies,” a tasteful slow jam, but the relation to people being zombies—dead and walking—has been played out. The lyrics talk of someone “eating you for profit,” which could be a statement on the music industry that Gambino had recently taken a break from.
While the musical style of the songs differ widely, the shallow lyrics remain a constant. There are countless artists that touch on social justice and equality, but they seem to do it with a little more depth.
Aside from that flaw, the music keeps flowing and the next jam, “Riot,” sounds busy and exciting. Unfortunately, once “California” begins, there is a complete disconnect. Among the soul and funkadelic vibes, California’s tropical personality is disruptive and uncomfortable. It feels like it can’t coexist with the rest of the album.
Thankfully, what I believe to be the best song off the album, “Redbone” makes up for that blip. It has all of the musical influence produced in one smooth, calm piece that showcases the best qualities in Glover’s voice. With the lyrics “Stay woke,” repeating as a reminder that being “woke” is our duty, “Redbone,” is catchy and powerful.
The songs that follow are still easy on the ears, but not as memorable. If the album were to have closed with “Redbone,” and maybe if “California” wasn’t there as a disruption, the album would have been more cohesive and impactful. But, all in all, "Awaken, My Love!" is eye and ear opening. It expresses that through knowledge and creativity, we can have influence in the world around us.