On "STN MTN," Glover enlists DJ Drama to create an ode to a long-gone version of Atlanta, using some of the forgotten nuances and motifs. "Kauai EP" represents a present, based on discovery and 'blunt' reflection. Using visions of a pleasant past and colorful present, Donald Glover and Childish Gambino have finally fused together.
The evolutions of Donald Glover and Childish Gambino appeared mutually exclusive until recently, with the masses not completely sold on either. Glover was either "that guy from that show,” or “Troy!!!!” The Gambino character was viewed as a playful, non-threatening side project, by fans of Glover’s work, and other rappers. With each tape and album, moving from almost nonsensical raps about how he likes to “fuck a bitch to pass the time,” to more clever, multi-meaning offerings, Stone Mountain wordsmith’s improvement over a relative short period has been impressive.
With each successive project, there’s an interesting, overarching event taking place: the symbiosis of Glover and his alter ego. Where Glover seemed to be losing it, he’s actually moving closer to the outsized personality and conviction of Gambino. On the other end, Bino’s material ventures (slightly) less about the conquering of the fairer sex, and more into the shades of relationships with them, as well as pressures of being young, rich, and black - all found on his last label project, Because the Internet. Though perhaps not his very best, STN MTN /Kauai EP stands out as Gambino’s most intriguing body of work yet.
“It was all a dream…” Gambino’s lucid fantasies on, on triplet track “Dream / Southern Hospitality / Partna Dem,” laid down the foundation, with great use of DJ Drama, who’s (purposefully) all over STN MTN. Gambino sets up the album as a tribute to Atlanta, with references to ATL specific motifs and events, only a person with somewhat intimate knowledge on the city would have. “Fucks Given” feels like a Travi$ Scott cut, but Childish sounds comfortable.
However, on “No Small Talk,” which features Kari Faux (as it’s her track), we are taken back to straight Cadillac Brougham music, that mom-and-pop record store mixtape music. “Money Baby” sounds chintzy, in the best ways possible, like he used an 808 plug-in, with the most expensive keyboard they would find in Wal-Mart. Yet, it’s going to rattle your whole neighborhood.
Another triplet track, “Move That Dope / Nectel Chirp / Let Your Hair Blow,” features an emboldened Gambino, confidently calling himself a top five MC. He also displays his improving ability to completely switch up flows, without losing the poison. He goes in on “Let Your Hair Blow“: “I don’t swear the God, I just swear to me/ don’t there’s anything I couldn’t be.”
“Is it too much to ask for lyrics? I mean, it’s 2014,” asks DJ Drama, on the well produced, but thematically spent, “AssShots.” Tongue planted in cheek and submerging a little deeper from this point on, Gambino’s hilarious, incredibly detailed faux radio announcement seals in the ATL experience. “U Don’t Have to Call” positions itself as album’s important track. Not only an excellent Usher cover, Gambino lies down spoken bars, that elucidate some inner thoughts and perspectives. “I was never a thug and you used to respect me for it. But now the game’s fucked up, and I gotta Michael Corleone these niggas.”
The proto-ATL tracks “Candler Road” and “All Y’all” mixes lyrical superiority, and half-baked hooks. The bars are both impressive, and technically proficient: “We were born free, that's my God given/How a god living? Fantastic, fans spazz when they see ya man passing/I'm in the Aston Martin, unforgivable blackness, beg your pardon.” “Go DJ” closes out the aspirational STN MTN, as a tribute to the DJs and influential people who’ve supported him, in real life (with some he’s speaking into existence.)
Now awake, the Kauai EP has Gambino lifted on an island, trying to get a chick to come around to see his point of view, on the high-on-life “Sober.” A pleasant as it sounds aurally, the fact that Gambino would rather not be sober suggests issues with living in a true reality. Semi-throwback “Pop Thieves (Make It Feel Good)” features Jaden Smith recounting a (already?) pivotal night in his young life over Last Poets-era bongos.
A rough rehashing of an idea previously shared, “Retro [ROUGH]” was originally on his Sick Boi mixtape, as “Love Is Crazy.” Michael Jackson-influenced “The Palisades” also has an updated Sergio Mendes sensibility with the Brazilian guitars. The lone down spot goes to “Poke,” featuring Bino’s younger brother, Steven G. Lover, who’s also got bars. However, while the singing is top notch, there’s something missing in the track, leaving it a little watery and superfluous.
“Late Night in Kauai” features more of Jaden, thinking deeply again, over those “Pop Thieves” bongos. Gambino says, “We are becoming God,” adding to his recent man-God ideology he’s been on lately. Is Bino suggesting some of Satre’s main ideas, in that “existence precedes essence,” as we earn, and not necessarily learn, our way into what’s actually important? Listening to his recent interviews say he's onto a different plane, Finally, Fam’s “verse” offers a long wondered question: “Do you really like that shit you like? Or you like the way they gave it to you?”
Conceptually and lyrically, STN MTN / Kauai EP represents some of his best work, with some negatives. The mixdown occasionally sounds like it was completed in a closet studio, but that could've been purposeful. Additionally, there are inherent limitations, of it being a mixtape of ideas, and specifically with use of a dream concept. Nothing’s nailed down, and was never planned to be.
While STN MTN plays as a complete design, the covers and recycling of familiar music and ideas scream a yearning for a time lost, a more honest time. The listener's awareness of Bino’s dream-state provides a surreal quality, which carries into Kauai EP (which would fall flat without mixtape's pretext.) Both projects could actually be seen as open platforms, for future thought processes, as well as the closure and cementing of others.