Awaken, Donald Glover
Donald Glover has been on an amazing run this year. He recently wrote and played the lead role in the new television show, Atlanta. Everyone thought he was finished, but then he took America by surprise when he returned to his moniker Childish Gambino and dropped the release date to his third studio Album, “Awaken My Love”. The singles that came out, “Me and Your Mama” and “Redbone” were even more surprising because he did not rap; he spent the entirety of both tracks singing and continued to sing throughout his album. When the album finally dropped, it turned out to be R & B instead of hip hop. “Awaken My Love” is an album that was made to subvert the expectations of fans, and it does just that with high quality. The album is good; however, it may not be for everyone. Some people may not enjoy the album despite its quality.
The first possible drawback is that the album has no rapping. I personally enjoyed the album because I enjoy hearing music that is experimental and goes against what I expect from an artist. Everyone does not like experimentation and change when it comes to music. If you like Childish Gambino’s rapping and only his rapping, then this album will likely disappoint you. Another possible drawback is that a lot of songs on the album are quite lengthy and have long sections of instrumental or intro lyrics.
An example can be found in “Me and Your Mama”. There is an instrumental and quiet intro vocal for the first two minutes of the song. Personally, I found the beginning of “Me and Your Mama” and other songs with long segments of instrumentation to be interesting because slowly different instruments would be added and sounds would change, but a lot of people may find it boring if they are a more lyric-oriented listener. Another possible drawback is while Childish Gambino can sing and hit notes, he is not the most spectacular singer ever.
If you go into the album expecting him to sound like Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston had a child that inherited their vocal talents, then you will be underwhelmed. Childish Gambino is a decent singer, not an awe-inspiring singer. Another drawback is the song “California”. It is not a necessary song, and his vocals are particularly annoying on that song. It fits with the album, but it is not necessary for the album’s narrative. It is much like a subplot in a movie that is connected but not needed because enough information was already given.
Messages and Subject Matter
Childish Gambino’s, “Awaken My Love”, talks about a variety of topics. The album speaks on love, inspiration, childhood, fatherhood, and police brutality. The track “Stand Tall” features Childish Gambino reminiscing about the lessons his father taught him and eventually relaying the lessons to his own son.
“Boogieman” is a song that addresses police brutality and how stereotyping causes the police to fear black people; it speaks on the irony that the police have been legally armed and have power but fear us. Childish Gambino connects the police brutality to the theme of fatherhood through the lyrics, “If you point a gun at my rising sun, though we’re not the one, but in the bounds of your mind, we have done the crime.”
One editor and contributor on the lyric website Genius named Kevin Loo asserts that, “The image of the “rising sun” acts as an image of a new day. It also serves as a homonym with “son”. The gun takes aim to end the bright future of many young African American males (sons).” Ultimately, the song explores police brutality and stereotyping and how it adds fear and stress to being a black parent. Overall, the album speaks on a variety of important topics that are well-organized. Some of the lyrics are straightforward and others are more ambiguous. The album has the right organization to make the listener think and to make the listener relax.
“Awaken My Love” is an overall sonically pleasing album. The album is full of vibrant instrumentation and variety. No two songs sound identical, but none of the songs sound so far apart that you wonder why it was put on the album. Childish Gambino has a large vocal range and he seeks to show it off; he hits high notes and low notes. The production can be both soothing and exciting and the vocals are mostly well done.
Obviously, Childish Gambino is not the most amazing singer, but he is good enough to carry the entire album. The song “Me and Your Mama” features passionate near screaming vocals, while “Redbone” is more soothing and relaxed. “Stand Tall” feels epic and inspirational, while “Boogieman” feels fleetingly happy with increasingly rising dark undertones.
The album has beautiful production full of xylophones, guitars, drums, choruses, and several other elements. The best part of the sound is that Childish Gambino effectively uses runs. He does not overstay his welcome. Have you ever listened to an album or a song with a singer who is really good, but they continued to bombard you with adlibs? The song might have been three minutes long but the adlibs increased the length to eight minutes. Childish Gambino avoids that, which is good because it can be annoying. Instead of doing that, he allows the instrumentals to flow and do some of the work for him.
The best three songs on the album are “Redbone,” “Boogieman,” and “Zombies.” “Redbone” is the best track and was an excellent choice for a single. This song shows off his vocals very well and as Myke C-Town from Dead End Hip Hop proclaims, “At first I thought he was talking about a chick but then I thought maybe he is talking about the system of oppression and saying that it was too late to fix it.” This message fits well with the repetition of the lyrics “stay woke”, which is a common phrase within the black community and the Black Lives Matter movement. The song can simultaneously be about being confused about a woman’s intentions on a surface level and about racial oppression on a deeper level.
“Boogieman” is the next best song. Once again, Childish Gambino has good vocals here and I enjoy the critique of the police in the song. He addresses racism in a unique way by using the idea of the bogeyman which represents the police fearing us as if we are monsters and also the idea of himself as a boogieman as in a person who inspires you to dance the “boogie” to his music. “Zombies” is a song in which Childish Gambino speaks about people who attempt to mooch off of people when they find out they are successful. I enjoyed how self-aware and truthful “Zombies” was and how Childish Gambino was introspective about his relationship to the people around him.
If you enjoy listening to a music artist pushing their boundaries, then you will likely find joy in this album. This album is not perfect. Again Childish Gambino is not a great singer, but he has decent vocals. “Awaken my Love” can be soothing, relaxing, and jarring. The songs flow very well, but the album may disappoint many people who were looking forward to hearing Childish Gambino rap again.
Of all the songs on the album, I would definitely remove “California” from the track list. It is the only track that was not necessary. The song fit the album but just was not needed. While it can be funny on a first listen, it can become annoying quickly. Aside from “California,” there are no songs that I would personally remove. I look forward to hearing more R & B, funk, and soul albums from Childish Gambino. Overall, Donald Glover has proven once again that he cannot be put in a box. “Awaken My Love” is an amazing album because it completely subverts expectations and is experimental but can still be enjoyable.