With "Summer Pack" and "This Is America" on hand, the musical direction of Childish Gambino's new album remains a mystery.
Childish Gambino’s backpacker roots feel like a long faded memory. Day one fans may remember the days of endearing, yet somewhat groan-inducing punchlines like “Half-Thai thickie, all she wanna do is Bangkok,” or “I love pussy, I love bitches, dude, I should be runnin’ PETA.” Looking back on seminal drops like Camp, and to a lesser extent Because The Internet, it feels like Bino crafted them while in his second-stage evolutionary form, at least with regards to his musical artistry. Through undeniable cleverness, a encyclopedic wealth of pop-culture knowledge and a carefully honed sense of comedic timing, Glover garnered the attention of a niche audience, willing to separate him from his impressive turn as Troyon Community.
It’s funny, really. Many of the same critics who originally bashed Gambino are now singing his praises, as if the man is incapable of artistic wrongdoing. True, the road seemed fraught with skepticism; like Kanye West’s oft-debated foray into fashion, many seemed unwilling to take an actor-turned-rapper seriously. Yet the public was soon won over by the conceptual daringness of Because The Internet, or the artistic vision of cinematic brainchild Atlanta. “Redbone’s” placement in the opening credits of “Get Out” felt like a defining cultural moment. Geeks rejoiced upon learning that Gambino’s alter-ego, Donald Glover, was set to don the iconic cape of Lando Calrissian.
Simply put, Gambino found himself beloved by the masses; naysayers would be met with a swift and decisive tongue lashing from the amorphous keyboard brigade. Even those who weren’t vibing with the old-school, funk influences of Awaken My Love! professed to respect the project all the same. When “This Is America” dropped, the single was met with unanimous praise, with particular acclaim going to the masterfully shot, Hiro Murai directed visuals; nothing says game-face like a well-executed long take. It didn’t take long for the single to amass over three-hundred-and-thirty-one million views, leaving many to wonder whether a new artistic direction was forthcoming.
Yesterday, Gambino continued the combo with a pair of new singles, tried-and-true sunshine blammers appropriately titled “Summertime Magic” and “Feels Like Summer.” On their own, the EP made for a cohesive, topical drop, centered around capturing the uniqueness of a mid-July vibe. Yet, both musically and thematically, Gambino’s Summer Pack feels worlds apart from the simmering tension of “This Is America.” While cohesiveness is not altogether a prerequisite for an album, Glover’s mind has always gravitated toward the conceptual; you already know he’s not snoozing his way through the sequencing process.
Given what we have to work with, what can we glean about Gambino’s upcoming, and possibly final project?
Forgot about the carefree Summer Pack for a moment, and return to the source of the inferno. “This Is America” remains one of Gambino’s defining tracks, arguably too strong a centerpiece to remain a loosie. Given the tumultuous state of American socio-political affairs, the song seems to feel like a furious counterpunch, courtesy of the Democratic black community. Yet when asked about his motivation behind crafting the song, Glover coyly sidestepped any sense of political intention, revealing that he simply “wanted to make, you know, a good song. Something people could play on Fourth of July.”
Tongue in cheek, to be sure. While perhaps one might choose to take his comments as fact, it does seem like Gambino understands the scope of his voice. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him pick up where “This Is America” left off, addressing themes of racial inequality, oppression, societal double standards, and political apathy.
A celebration of Atlanta’s “Trap” roots?
Gambino’s iconic proclamation that Migos “are the Beatles of this generation” cemented him as a firm believer in the benefits of a healthy trap lifestyle. Though pre-”This Is America” Gambino seemed to be the polar opposite of trap music as we’ve come to know it; look no further than “Camp” for validation. Yet Glover has seemed to come to embrace his inner ATLien with every passing day. The Migos co-sign was merely the beginning.
“This Is America” found Gambino perusing the trapstar adlib catalog and placing orders willy-nilly; ultimately, the song was bolstered by the added presence Quavo, 21 Savage, Young Thug, three of Atlanta’s biggest artists. Though some have decried trap’s role in the current hip-hop stratosphere, Glover’s co-sign serves to highlight his appreciation for the subgenre, while standing proudly behind something the layman may write off as “uncultured.” It wouldn’t be surprising to see Donald Glover continue to highlight Atlanta artists moving forward.
However, it’s entirely possible that Glover takes us in an altogether different direction. The recent arrival of Summer Pack is as far from “Trap” as one can imagine, instead channeling the carefree nature of a seasonal island getaway. While Awaken My Love seemed to harken back to the raw vibes of seventies, Summer Pack finds Gambino dipping his toes in the eighties pool. Staples like synthesizers and reverb-drenched vocals evoke memories of Mr. Mister’s “Broken Wings,” Toto’s iconic “Africa,” or even Madonna’s “La Isla Bonita.”
It’s entirely possible that Gambino felt merely inspired by the simple pleasures of a summer evening, and decided to hit the studio for a one-time-only experiment. Yet knowing the scope of his vision, it’s equally possible that Summer Pack is but the first chapter of a greater saga; it appears to be confirmed that both singles are set to appear on his upcoming album. Can these two blammers coexist peacefully around “This Is America?” Hard to say. Yet Gambino deserves a little bit of credit here; should he find himself exploring the rabbit-hole of eighties-pop soundscapes, the possibilities are endless.