Childish Gambino’s latest, “Awaken My Love!”, finds Donald Glover elevated and timeless.
Donald Glover’s come a long way since Troy from Community and the I am Just a Rapper mix tapes and to consider “Awaken My Love!” a rap album would be a misnomer. It was 2013’s Because the Internet that saw Glover push the boundaries of what a Childish Gambino album could achieve with a Marvin Gaye sensibility that was almost vulnerable at times. With “Awaken My Love!” the discipline is paid in earnest, crafting a truly fun album that maintains a timeless presence throughout. Tracks such as the bassy “Zombies” and the cosmic funk in the opening track, “Me and Your Mama”, own a direct through-line to George Clinton and the Parliament Funkadelic. While the celebratory optimism in “Have Some Love” hearkens to the best of Sly and the Family Stone’s own timeless appeal.
These influences are not scattershot or done in passing homage, but remain the guiding hand throughout “Awaken My Love!”’s eleven solid tracks. While some can lament the absence of those tight-knit deep-reference rap verses that Childish Gambino was first known for, Glover has always been an exponential artist, never sequential. The delivery found in most of “Awaken My Love!” is slower, sung more than spit. His themes have expanded as well. Unlike Kanye, he has no compulsion to remind us of his explicit greatness every other bar. Instead, Gambino offers a treatise on the balance between existence and survival.
In “Have Some Love”, Glover croons “Have a word for your brother / have some time for one another / really love one another / it’s so hard to find.” And reminds us in the closing “Stand Tall” as his parents did him, “Keep all your dreams / keep standing tall / if you are strong you cannot fall / there is a voice inside us all / so smile when you can.” In service of less capable performers those lines would come off trite platitudes, vague and impersonal. Here, they prove transcendent, speaking to the souls and aspirations of his listeners; opposed to the day-to-day politics that only serve to divide.
The soul in the Stevie Wonder-esque “Baby Boy” is unmistakable and the choice to allow for extended instrumental bridges is daring and forces the listener to come to Gambino. The result expands the landscape of tracks, allowing for a much more immersive album in the process. While comparing anyone to the late, great Purple One is rightfully considered sacrilege, tracks like “Terrified” as well as Glover’s overall sensibility in composing “Awaken My Love!” cannot be denied their Princely pedigree.
One of the greatest aspects of the Atlanta star and recording artist is the fact that we’ve got so much more to look forward to from the prolific composer. To consider how much Childish Gambino’s sound has evolved in the brief window we’ve been privy to its creation, Donald Glover holds the potential to be one of the most exciting composers in modern music; “Awaken My Love!” is an impressive entry in this progression.