Childish Gambino offers off-beat rap album

Ali Breland

With piercing poignancy and unparalleled punchline delivery, Childish Gambino doesn’t occupy a conventional place in rap. That’s because he isn’t from traditional rap origins. After a career as an Emmy-winning writer on “30 Rock,” Donald Glover took to stand-up and acting while writing raps and making beats in the free time. That being said, he isn’t necessarily better either, however he is different.

Camp follows this paradigm as it manages to exist outside of standard rap spheres while managing to dabble and synthesize parts from a wide ranging amount of them.

One of the most consistent aspects of Camp is how manic it is. At some points Childish Gambino flies into horrible rage spouts of absurd, intense vehemence. These instances are countered by downtroddenly somber moments where he sadly speaks into the mic with a slightly tortured wistfulness.

The stupidity lies in Childsh Gambino’s excessive acrimony. The track, “You See Me,” is extremely emblematic of this. The song is reminiscent of southern rap, particularly of Lil Wayne’s stylings. As you listen, it becomes very apparent that Childish should not be emulating anything Lil’ Wayne does, because Childish Gambino isn’t Lil’ Wayne.

On the side of the duality that makes Camp good, Childish Gambino clearly has issues that need to be resolved and his anger at some points contributes to the brilliantly raw emotions he pours out that make certain parts of the album great. The first single “Bonfire” carries a controlled anger manifests into really good song. The beat is hard, but not beyond appropriate for Childish, and the lyrics are straight and emotive. Right from the first punchline where he spits, “It’s Childish Gambino/Homegirls dropping like the NASDAQ,” to his soft but bitter uttering, “This summer will be summer camp…/ bitch” at the song’s end, the listener is sent on a volatile adventure through all that is Childish Gambino.

Despite hackneyed themes of “Money, women, and clothes, and cars,” the album hits very profound points. In several tracks Gambino deals with racism in a very precise and meaningful manner. He takes on a perspective rarely seen, that of an individual who grows up in the cultural context of one race, while coming from another.

Throughout the album he writes of the sting of subtle racism, “This one kid said something that was really bad/he said I wasn’t really black because I had a dad.” He finishes “Hold You Down” with hopes of overcoming this: “I won’t stop until they say James Franco is the white Donald Glover.”

The album’s finest moment comes on “That Power,” when he delivers beautiful spoken word prose about a childhood memory that molded his mentality towards love and intimacy. The track ties the summer camp motif together perfectly and finishes the album in a purposefully succint manner.

The album as a whole isn’t great, however it is very good. While it won’t be the year’s best hip-hop album, it is certainly one of the most honest.

Bonfire by Childish Gambino

Printed on Tuesday, November 15, 2011 as: Manic unconventional rapper covers racism, controversy