India Slodki/ The Broadside
If you don’t know who Donald Glover is by now, you have probably been living under a rock. Now 37, Glover found his initial popularity with Community, a pitch perfect sitcom about a community college that aired from 2009-2015. Now, Glover is most relevant as Childish Gambino, the mastermind behind the 2016 album Awaken My Love.
Awaken My Love opens with Me and Your Mama, a sultry slow burn that concludes with an explosive confession from Gambino. The track follows two lovers as they navigate the intricacies of their relationship. Initially, we are introduced to an image of the two lovers smoking weed together, an activity that often leads to an increased sense of intimacy and affection. By the end of the track, Gambino finds himself wailing about the deep connection he feels with this partner, and expresses how their relationship is being tested by those around them.
Me and Your Mama sets the pace for the rest of the album. The opening bars feel cosmic, as does the rest of the album. Gambinos narration throughout the album is often backed by a choir, giving a gospel-like earnestness to his words. Have Some Love is where these two elements shine, as deep and echoey instrumentals back what feels like a sermon about loving thy neighbor.
Songs like Boogieman and Zombies instill a feeling of dread and apprehension, as Gambino weaves in and out of foreboding sonic landscapes, creeping up on and dancing around the listener. Boogieman sits perpendicular to Zombies as the hunter in Boogieman becomes the hunted in Zombies. Both tracks rely heavily on communication between the drum line and distorted guitar lines. They set a dark and angular stage for a battle for survival.
Redbone, the most infamous track off of Awaken My Love, single handedly revitalized the influence of funk in popular music. Redbone was one of three singles released to promote the album, and immediately caught up in the mainstream. Get Out–Jordan Peele’s directorial debut–featured the song heavily in the opening scenes, which also helped boost the song in the public eye.
Hovering just under five minutes and thirty seconds, Redbone plays with funk and psychedelic soul to create a mellow but foreboding environment. “Stay woke” is repeated throughout the track, meshing with the cautious attitude of the rest of the track. Gambino stated that he wanted the listener to feel afraid, as that’s how black people feel in america. The song is meant to worm its way through the body, leaving the listener with a sense of distress.
California, meant to be a satire of beach pop/funk tracks worshiping the golden state, feels out of place and ultimately just strange. Gambino’s distorted vocals feel rude and obnoxious, while a pan pipe provides much of the back line, a strange addition to a portfolio of synths, strong drum beats, and distorted funk guitar lines.