Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Genius or Childish? (CD Review of Childish Gambino) by Nate Zachar

Actors-turned-musicians seem to be met with skepticism these days; these borderline-taboo transitions are almost always the objects of relentless, unforgiving scrutiny. Lindsay Lohan. James Franco. Steve from Blue’s Clues. While it’s frivolous to categorize these “wanderers” beneath the same hood, as their musical projects can result in anything from sonic gold (hey, I've yet to meet someone who doesn't love Big Willie Style) to the disturbing similarity to the sound of a groundhog under a woodchipper (shout out to Paris Hilton), artistic success seems to be largely unexpected from these sorts of people, as the general consensus on the quality of these blasphemous dabblings seems to be, according to my sources, “shit.”

Now enter Donald Glover. The Community actor doesn’t hesitate to embrace the skepticism surrounding his hip-hop on his first major release, Camp. Emceeing under the internet-generated moniker Childish Gambino, he carelessly shatters through the Fourth Wall in a striped polo and a pair of short-shorts, saying about his own persona on “All the Shine”: “I know it’s dumb, that’s the fuckin’ reason I’m doing it.” Via means of self-parody, he jabs at other modern rappers with similar content, even though they’re taking themselves seriously. And when he does, his tracks shine. Songs like “Bonfire” contain his signature legato pronunciation and witty wordplay (“I love pussy, I love bitches / Dude, I should be runnin’ PETA”), and the opening track, “Outside,” is a dark, brilliant introduction to the album chronicling his poverty-stricken childhood and his struggle to fit in with both the white and black communities.
That being said, there are some songs that just didn’t work. Take “Heartbeat,” for instance, which feels as though he and his producers found an r&b ballad and a four-on-the-floor dubstep track left over on a forgotten hard drive in the studio and someone suggested, “Hey, wouldn’t it be crazy if we combined these into one?” The transition between styles is too rigid, too contrived, and ultimately unnecessary.

Ironically, his unique blend of self-awareness and cutthroat shots at the hip-hop genre is also his weakness, as it can be difficult to “get” Childish Gambino, to make up your mind whether you’re on board for a particular track or not. After all, should we be carefully analyzing the content of a musician who flatly states “I’m lame as fuck,” or should we simply consider Camp to be a fun and satirical, if unfocused 808-fueled experiment? The inconsistency of tone throughout the album makes it difficult to complete in one sitting; it feels like multiple projects spliced into one.
Though that's not to say the album doesn't have its moments. Camp actually reminds me of the first time I went camping with my college roommates: it was enjoyable early on, but then the ex complaints and the dick references started pouring out and I couldn't wait for it to be over with.

Author bio:
Nate Zachar is from Detroit, Michigan. He spends much of his time writing fiction and music reviews. One day he’d like to write a piece of fiction about a music reviewer. Or maybe get a music reviewer to write a piece of fiction for him. Wait. He’s had work previously published in Torrid Literature.

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