I don’t think I need to reiterate just how much Childish Gambino aka Donald Glover is killing the game, at this point it should just be self evident. Following up his highly successful, and first major production, first season of Atlanta, he drops off his first major album in almost three years. And just as the direction of his first comedy series was largely unexpected, so was the surprising direction he went with Awaken, My Love!
At this point I think it’s safe to expect the unexpected from Gambino. He seems to be a creative in the purest sense of the word, unafraid to experiment and take risks for the sake of creative satisfaction. Awaken, My Love! is a prime example of that. I, like I assume most of his fans, expected to hear a hip-hop album. I know he’s always experimented, flirting with pop, electronic, and R&B sounds, but still remained at his core, hip-hop. Awaken is a straight up 70’s era inspired funk album, undoubtedly heavily influenced by artists like Rick James and Funkadelic. Once you get past the initial shock of what you’re hearing, there is some very good stuff here. “Redbone”, “Me And Your Mama”, and “Baby Boy” are all fantastic endeavors into that time period. Full of all the ethereal voices, psychedelic guitars, and jam breakdowns you’d expect from something from that era; all the songs faithfully adhere to the sounds of the time and genre. But therein lies my biggest gripe with Awaken. It’s too faithful to his inspirations and doesn’t inject enough of the levity and personality Gambino has become known for, he gets lost in the times.
“We’re coming out to get you We’re all so glad we met you We’re eating you for profit There is no way to stop it You will find there is no safe place to hide, hide”
There’s not a single rap bar to be found here. It’s all singing, all the time. Gambino isn’t a terrible singer by any stretch of the imagination but he isn’t a terrific singer either. His best moments singing on his last projects always came from the fantastic melodies they added to his rapping; these here can wear their welcome out. I’ve always liked him for his unique perspective in the rap game, speaking on things and issues largely ignored by the mainstream sound, giving a whole segment of the culture a newfound voice. That same sentiment can’t be said for what’s on Awaken, My Love! The content is largely vapid and only made up for by the sheer sincerity and commitment he gives.
Have you heard Awaken, My Love!? What’d you think about it? Do you think it was a successful experiment? Or was it more imitation than innovation? Let me know in the comments below and be sure to leave your rating for the album.
Awaken, My Love! is an interesting experiment that has some noteworthy moments but is ultimately held back by it's too faithful adherence to it's 70's funk influences. Sorely missing the levity, personality, and subject matter Gambino has become known for.