'Awaken, My Love!' is a great project, but we can't let 'Bino retire on an R&B album.
I know exactly where I was when I heard Childish Gambino for the first time. “Heartbeat” was playing at an overcrowded house party filled with derelicts in North Jersey. The crowd of underage drinkers was immediately captivated by the opening piano. It was depressing, yet hopeful. Suddenly, a young Donald Glover enters the track singing through a distorted filter with a slight delay that sat crisply inside those mysterious pianos: “I wanted you to know, whenever you are around/ can’t speak, I can’t speak.” Then some insane electronic beat drops and every girl in the room went crazy. That was the moment I knew.
Like many fans of the multi-talented artist, Camp was my first introduction to Gambino. Songs like “LES” and “Bonfire” were absolute perfection. “Hold You Down” was monumental in hip-hop because it was the first time a rapper really dove into the plights of a Black kid living in the suburbs on a commercial level. ‘Bino somberly raps: “This one kid said something that was really bad/ he said I wasn’t really Black because I had a dad.” It’s a different world living in the 'burbs, think about it, minorities in poor communities are surrounded by each other. The eclectic culture in places like Crown Heights or Compton thrived off the communities within them. Everybody knows everybody in their own hood. Imagine you have no hood, and you’re in a place where no one wants you or accepts you. That was the perspective Gambino brought to the forefront of Camp. Being a Black kid influenced by suburban culture prompted ‘Bino to rap: “Lovin’ white dudes who call me white and then try to hate/ when I wasn’t white enough to use your pool when I was 8.” ” He's intelligent when provoked and emotional in his natural state, it worked so cohesively it was almost scary.
If you dig into ‘Bino’s catalog, flashes of brilliance on tracks like “Do Ya Like” were prophetic of his greatness to come. Culdesac was ahead of its time, even for Gambino himself. It was unrefined as if he went into the future and gained technology he wasn't fully equipped to use. The concepts and bars were in place, but the delivery needed time to mature. His next effort Camp was a step in the right direction, but it wasn’t perfect. It almost seemed like he knew this, since he returned to the lab and produced his next big tape, R O Y A L T Y.
Unquestionably his best mixtape to date, the project featured legends such as Bun B, RZA, and Ghostface Killah, and also boasted guest appearances by talented rookies. Nipsey Hustle, Schoolboy Q, Ab-Soul, Danny Brown, and Chance the Rapper were just beginning to commandeer America’s attention when they teamed up with ‘Bino in 2012. Even artists who seem obscure to hip-hop fans like Beck and Danielle Haim had stand-out performances. R O Y A L T Y was an entire period of time for me, where Ab-Soul mixed lean with pinot grigio, Nipsey Hustle gloated about his independence, and RZA shattered atoms with wordplay. Bino’s solo tracks on the mixtape were just as insane, or even more impressive. Once again, Gambino delivered, but he wasn’t done growing.
In 2013, Because the Internet dropped. The Grammy-nominated mind-blowing musical monster of an album was ahead of its time and now ‘Bino had caught up. Undeniable radio records like “3005” showcased ‘Bino’s ability to craft a catchy and addicting single, while on the opposite spectrum, interludes like “Urn” and “I. The Party” were experimental strokes of genius. ‘Bino even tied in a story, released in screenplay form, that accompanied the album in a mysterious marketing plan that only real Childish fans followed. His lyrically unique musings are on full display on “III. Life: The Biggest Troll," the outro of the album. When ‘Bino spits: “Text said, "I'm wet," I said, "Hold up, wait up a minute"/ H2O plus my D, that's my hood, I'm living in it,” or “Slowest connection ever, my life inside a computer/ Them bands that'll make 'em dance, my wallet's Lollapalooza,” you could tell his lyrical growth had finally caught up with his ambitious wordplay.
Last year, Gambino dropped Awaken, My Love!, an album that sounded like a mix of Andre 3000’s The Love Below and Curtis Mayfield’s Curtis. The soul/funk/punk project has been nominated for Album of the Year at the 2018 Grammy Awards, and it appears as if that will be Bino’s last album. He announced his retirement earlier this year, although retirement is never permanent for a rapper. Already questioning his decision, Gambino has admitted to working on new music recently. Hope is not yet lost! I loved Awaken, My Love!, but I need bars. I need obnoxious metaphors and innovative entendres wrapped around punchlines and melodies that create classic verses. Gambino can’t retire singing, that might possibly be the worst ending I can fathom for his music career. Yes, “Redbone” is irresistible, “Terrified” is soul-stirringly good, and “Baby Boy” is electrifying, but I am not satisfied because the game still needs Childish Gambino.
He is one of the few artists who can build a work of art conceptually. His mind exists in a different reality, and his music is a reflection of his madness. His perspective can be unsettling, but it’s unique and candid in a culture where sounding the same and gathering virtual thumbs-up are musical objectives. On his FX series Atlanta, ‘Bino addresses everything from politics to homosexuality and club promoters to lemon pepper wet sauce. The script on his FX hit showcased the level of genius ‘Bino puts into his writing. His range of thought cannot be measured or weighed, its value comes from its abstract surrealism. There is no one in the game right now that can both sing and rap on his level of brilliance. What rappers do you know who could croon “Redbone” with no filter? The combination of skill and intelligence makes Gambino’s presence vital in hip-hop. Fans need another Childish Gambino album before he takes his final bow. It would be a tragedy if we never get another rap album from him again. We need a compilation of all the lessons learned and skills mastered by Childish before he leaves us... and Paper Boi will be a featured artist. That’s a demand.