Applause. For the first time, nothing but applause can be heard surrounding Childish Gambino’s music. I’ve been a fan long enough to remember how some would call him a fake Drake when EP first dropped. The boos that followed his debut album Camp is still very fresh in my mind. Naysayers were truly resistant in showing any love to the growth shown on Because the Internet. Childish may have been popular, but he has never been adored by the majority―he wasn’t always great, but he received no mercy for being good. The beauty of his story is that he never stopped improving; he continued to progress, and with each album, he evolved as an artist. This is the best he has ever sounded, and the most he has ever been accepted. The applause is well-deserved.
Gambino is a few weeks away from his third album, "Awaken, My Love!" The two singles, “Me and Your Mama” and “Redbone” are artistically daring, sonically arresting—two beautiful examples of his metamorphosis into a fully-formed songbird. From a canary to a phoenix, this is the most impressive transformation to happen since Goku went Super Saiyan on Namek. The new music introduces a new sound, but it also shows that he has left rapping behind―what some would have considered the weakest weapon in his arsenal of skills. Various reports have stated that rapping is fairly nonexistent on this upcoming album, that the bars have been fully replaced with funk and soul. Admittedly, there are some cringeworthy moments in his catalog, but what rapper doesn’t have a few skeletons they wished stayed in the closest?
In light of his new album, I found myself revisiting some of his older work. Like most artists, Gambino has music that never made it on an album or mixtape but is good enough to be remembered. Some are just rapping, some only singing, but all great examples of where his music progressed from.
One of Drake’s best traits is his ability to capture moments in his life the way cameras are able to freeze memories. Gambino has that quality too, he's able to take audio selfies for fans to view. “Centipede” is by far one of the best portraits that he has ever uploaded to the 'net. Dating back to the summer of 2013, this is the song that originally broke his hiatus from music. It’s a strong icebreaker―a return that’s personal, taking you into the turbulent world of Donald Glover. I love how in the second verse, as he gets more intense, the beat switches into a spiral of madness. Artistically, you can see the music becoming more layered and intricate. The dog barking, the singing intro, the production transitions, and even the skit at the end; it's the little details that build the song into something memorable. The rapping is just adding a bit more color to a world full of character. "Centipede" is a great song, album worthy for sure, but it didn’t fit within the BTI concept.
When “Yaphet Kotto” dropped, my excitement for the album on the way shot through the roof. Gambino has a way of confronting critics in his music, at times it might be whining, but on “Yaphet Kotto” it comes off as self-aware. There’s a painful honesty to the song, in many ways, this is his “No More Interviews” mixed with B-Rabbit’s tactic in the last battle of 8 Mile. This is the first time he acknowledges headlines about leaving Community to be a rapper and speaks on his upcoming show that would be on FX. I love how the line about Terio and his cousin will be here even after Vine is deleted from the internet. Great beat, great raps, and count the number of flow switches―this is another album worthy Gambino offering.
“Body” ft. Prodigy
If there’s one person that I never expected to collaborate with Gambino it’s a member of Mobb Deep. This Prodigy-assisted single was released in 2012, a song that didn’t make the final cut of Royalty. You can hear in Gambino’s voice that it's old as his tone is much higher than it sounds now. I wouldn’t say him and Prodigy are a match made in heaven, it’s more like if you poured Hennessy in your scrambled eggs―not a great idea, but if you dare to try, you’ll realize the two aren’t the worst combination. It’s a bit strange that Bino called Prodigy dad, but the Aaahh!!! Real Monsters line makes up for any and all sins committed on the four-minute record.
“Sour Face” ft. Jay Rock
Speaking of unexpected collaborations, Jay Rock having a song with Bino is still a bit surprising. I mean, Childish did have a song with ScHoolboy Q and Ab-Soul, but those two are a bit more in his lane than Jay Rock from Watts. “Sour Face” doesn’t live up the epic collaboration that is “Unnecessary,” but the song is worth hearing for those that didn’t know it existed. “Sour Face” was originally featured on SoSuperSam’s Trigger Happy mixtape. In retrospect, Gambino has worked with all the members of Black Hippy except for Kendrick. The closest we ever got is Kendrick rapping over “You Know Me” for “Look Out For Detox.”
“I’d Die Without You (P.M. Dawn Cover)”
At the time of its release, Because the Internet was the album that showcased Gambino’s best performances as a vocalist. “Shadows,” “Telegraph Ave,” “Flight of the Navigator” and especially “Urn” impressed listeners. It's nothing compared to what he’s doing now, but it at least displayed a rapper that had a pleasant singing voice. While doing a press run, Gambino ended up in BBC Radio's 1Xtra studio for Live Lounge and he performed a cover of P.M. Dawn’s “I’d Die Without You.” The record was a huge hit back in ‘92, but you don’t hear much P.M. in modern R&B. Backed by a live band, Bino brought new life to an old classic, in case you needed more music for a Gambino R&B playlist.
There was a time where Childish was just knocking out R&B cover songs left and right. It does make me wish that more modern artists would dip back into the past just to bring more classics into the forefront. I don’t remember the last time I heard Soul For Real’s “Candy Rain” but I spent a week with the original and Gambino’s version after first hearing him sing on Zane Lowe's show back in 2014. In 2015, while doing promotion for a movie, Gambino ended up on Australian radio station Triple J, and did a performance of Tamia’s “So Into You.” It’s by far the best of the three covers and was a brief viral sensation on social media. By this time Kauai had been released, and songs like “Sober” showed his singing chops were much stronger, but it’s still incredible to hear such a well-done rendition. Cover songs are easily forgotten, but let’s hold on to them for a bit longer.
“Melrose”/”What Kind Of Love”
There was a time that Childish Gambino and Jhené Aiko were very close. Not close enough to do an album together, not close enough to be accused of ruining a marriage, but close enough where there was assumption that the two were at most, more than friends. Both profusely denied the claims, and the two eventually ceased to be seen publicly together. Before then, Bino tweeted a song link to Jhené, titled “Melrose.” I don’t know if the song is about her, or a song that was meant to feature her, but it’s absolute ear candy. Bino’s singing is soft and simplistic, and the beat starts off elegant and minimal, and eventually warps into something much more. It’s far from a complete song, but something to enjoy on lazy afternoons and extremely late nights. Another unfinished song that came to light after BTI is “What Kind Of Love”―a song that Bino said was being sold on iTunes without his permission. This one definitely fits within the BTI universe, maybe he had bigger plans for it, but that was ruined by whoever stole the song.
Not every song is worthy of the album, but some of the best records are the loosies floating in the deep crevices of the internet. I believe "Awaken, My Love!" will start the next stage of Childish Gambino’s musical career, but before we take that big step forward, enjoy this pleasant step back.
By Yoh, aka "Awaken, My Yoh!", aka @Yoh31.
Art Credit: Lizzie Fresh