What a whirlwind 365 days it’s been for Donald Glover. He created some of the most genuine television of the year with his critically acclaimed series ‘Atlanta’, launched ‘Pharos’ his hyper-audio/visual app, and treated fans to a live Pharos experience , which many media outlets called the most dynamic live show of the last decade. Not to mention he’s set to star in an upcoming Star Wars film. It has indeed been a monumental run for the kid who fashions his own short shorts from skinny jeans and created his Childish Gambino moniker from the now defunct Wu-Tang name generator.
While Gambino has been that kid you love to hate, be it his quirky and at times uncomfortable role as Troy from TV’s ‘Community’, or his penchant for stretching out the heart strings on countless singles, he’s been nothing but consistent since dropping his debut, Camp, in 2011. Yet, with the release of this month’s Awaken, My Love, consistency is an afterthought. The project is devoted entirely to the soulful, preachy funk of the 60’s and 70’s. It’s noisy, passionate, and way left of the dial; which fits Gambino like a second skin.
The record simmers from the jump with “Me and Your Mama”, playing like a sinister re-imagining of Sly and the Family Stone’s rock/soul rev-up. There’s no quitting as Gambino moans his way around new territory with a familiar touch and flair, without abandoning the fragile personality he’s established from project to project. While there are no bars on the record whatsoever, Gambino’s vulnerability and shaky confidence still shine, making you want to believe his howling confessions, even if he doesn’t.
Awaken, My Love has its sexy flashes including the standout “Redbone”, a subtle nod to the untimely deaths of Prince and Bowie, but it’s the thinly veiled message of unity that makes Awaken a true product of 2016. “Have Some Love” is a Ben Harper-influenced gem that reminds us to step back and breathe. It’s a novel sentiment for the unsettling world we’re living in. And for all its successes the album has its moments of laughable filler including “California” and “Zombies” which exhaust their metaphors before their midway marks. Yet both are too funky to ignore. “Baby Boy” and “Stand Tall” expand on the family themes explored on “Me and Your Mama” by reinforcing the notion that pain and struggle fit snugly into our daily lives, whether we like it or not.
Awaken looks and feels like a departure, but it’s not long before you realize Donald Glover and Childish Gambino are seamlessly blending, revealing less internet meme and more human being. Maybe he’s trying to prove that love and strife lead to the true power of self-recognition. Ironically, self is what’s revealed with utmost clarity on Awaken, My Love.