Review: Childish Gambino’s CAMP

by Chloe Rickert

Before everyone got to hear the entire album for free on NPR’s website, Donald Glover aka hip-hop artist Childish Gambino described Camp for Rolling Stone: “The biggest compliment I can give the album right now is it’s worthy of being on Glassnote.” After having three previous albums, two mixtapes, and one EP for free download online, the writer/actor/rapper finally joined the same label as Mumford & Sons and Phoenix in August to release his latest album. For fans of his music, his new stuff does not disappoint. There are still countless references to his unpopularity in school, his weakness for whiskey and Asian ladies, and his “haters.”

Turn on the first track and backup vocalists begin to harmonize, someone plays the keys, and do I hear strings? You realize what kind of an effect signing to a label will have on his music: the production values have obviously gone up, but otherwise he’s extremely consistent with his top quality tunes. “Outside” is the first song and it features a beautiful hook of his choir encouraging you that “there’s a world we can visit if we go outside.” The background singers really set the tone and the beat for a lot of the album that includes songs I could see dancing to in a club like “Heartbeat” and more poppy songs that could get some radio play like “Firefly.”

I love Donald Glover, not only because he’s handsome, hilarious, and talented and I want to make beautiful mixed babies with him, but also because his music can make me giggle, gasp, or even tear up. I don’t know what my favorite song is yet, but the best part of the album might be the very end of the last song “That Power” when Glover recounts a story of telling a girl he liked her on the bus back from summer camp. Later he finds out she told everyone and the other girls make fun of him. He explains, “This isn’t a story about how girls are evil or how love is bad,” and ends the album on a very serious note: “I wish I could say this was a story about how I got on the bus a boy and got off a man more cynical, hardened, and mature and shit, but that’s not true. The truth is I got on the bus a boy and I never got off the bus. I still haven’t.”

A lot of his words hit close to home. He says exactly what you’re thinking about that special guy or girl in “Heartbeat”: “Are we dating? Are we fucking? Are we best friends? Are we something in between that? I wish we never fucked, and I mean that. But not really, you say the nastiest shit in bed and it’s fucking awesome.” He also sneaks good advice into his verses with humor. In “Hold You Down,” he preaches, “If you’re a father, you should stick around if you could/ Cause even if you’re bad at it, you get Tiger Woods or MJ,” jokingly suggesting that even if you’re a bad father you should stay in your kid’s life because your son could turn out to be like Tiger Woods or Michael Jordan.

Although his songs often deal with not being taken seriously as a rapper due to his more famous comedy, it’s pretty clear that being a comedy writer directly influences his more clever lyrics. It even inspires bragging lines like “cause having an Emmy just wasn’t enough” from his 2011 EP. Furthermore, no one that attended this year’s IAMDONALD tour where he performed stand-up and rap in one show can doubt his talent. Camp officially dropped November 15, but you can stream the whole thing right now on NPR.org.

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