Album Review: Childish Gambino rocks underground appeal on Camp


Let Donald Glover, the mastermind behind Childish Gambino, take you back to summer camp and your first love with his new LP Camp.

Jolting and full of commentary on American and Black culture, Camp is in many ways a tribute to his upbringing. Glover uses himself as the punch line – as well as the punching bag – of his songs with self-deprecating and humorous storytelling.

The album is explained in the outro – a spoken word piece called "That Power" – as a learning process in which Glover adapted to telling everyone his business to avoid the hurt from spilled secrets. The track remains the "campiest" on the album, but also demonstrates how Glover's past is inextricably linked to his music.  

The first song "Outside" begins huge in scale but ends intimately and personally. Heart-wrenching and sentimental lyrics about how different his life was from his fatherless cousin's and moving out of a shared family apartment to their own place in the projects come out like a necessary cleansing: "Street took you over/ I want my cousin back/ The world sayin' what you are because you're young and black/ Don't believe ‘em/ You're still that kid that kept the older boys from teasin'."

Expect less hashtag rap than on the earlier album Cul De Sac and EP Be Alone, a matter of Glover's increased confidence in his style and speed. The only true hashtag rap song is "Backpackers," which pokes fun at the fans who only liked his early work offered for free on his website.

He does, however, spend some time addressing backpackers and naysayers in all of his songs. "Fire Fly," for instance, creates a dialogue: "Yeah so, whatcha gonna do man?/ You won't speak to the hood, man/ If I was given one chance I think I could, man/ These black kids want somethin' new, I swear it/ Somethin' they wanna say but couldn't cause they embarrassed/ All I do is make the stuff I would've liked."

Similar to his rap start on the Internet, Glover's role in the YouTube comedy troupe DerrickComedy launched his non-traditional acting career toward stand-up comedy and his role as Troy on "Community." His dramatic writing degree from New York University and experience writing for "30 Rock" also provided a setting for his mastery of language, in particular his understanding of the duality of words and ability to bend language to his will. His lyrics bring him a diverse audience as they're laden with metaphor-saturated rhymes and social commentary heavy in topical humor and pop culture references.

Under "Community" composer Ludwig Goransson, who helped co-write and produce the album, Glover's greatest improvement is musical. Their collaboration blends old school hip-hop with techno and dubstep. "Heartbeat," soon to be Gambino's biggest hit since "Freaks and Geeks," features bass beats that rival Kanye West's Graduation and can be easily remixed for dance clubs.

Camp was released on Glassnote Records, known for Phoenix's Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix and Mumford & Sons' Sigh No More (which Glover references) and named best indie label by Rolling Stone in 2011. Although a small label, Glassnote with Glover have furthered Gambino's indie appeal while also reaching a more mainstream audience. Camp is not just an album for middle-class African-Americans, nerds or Asian girls, though they are the subjects of his songs – it's for every small fry.