Cathartic, confessional, confident – ‘Camp’ is a wistful debut.
“Camp” is on the top 25 most downloaded albums on iTunes and on the front page of a sizable sliver of the internet. Still, Donald Glover’s not wincing.
If you have only enjoyed “Heartbeat,” the LP’s first single, get the whole album. Because although it’s one of the album’s strongest tracks, there are better displays of Gambino’s talent on “Camp.”
The single’s catharsis is matched and exceeded in the album opener “Outside,” which uses stadium-sized posturing in production to showcase self-consciousness, regretful notions about death, heavy nostalgia. If this sounds like familiar – like Kanye, for instance – then you’re only partly right, because although he nods toward his contemporaries, Gambino does his own thing.
In part because he does so much nodding. Camp’s production is like a survey of hip hop trends from 2k09-11: the foot stomp/clap, the marching band melody line, the ‘In This Club’-esque ‘Aaayy’s, the really long track with spoken word (the closer: “That Power”, and to be fair spoken word has been in hip hop for a long time, but a love letter?).
Glover manages to be nostalgic in a contemporary fashion, to reference the ’90s while pushing the currency of 2011. ”All I do is make the stuff I would have liked/ Reference things I wanna watch, reference girls I wanna bite”; it’s like he’s trying to write a blog that came out as a hip hop album.
Yet his personality is what drives the album most. Glover’s delivery is so crystal clear that it’s impossible to ignore the lyrics. They ride above the album at all times—he rarely mutters or is hard to understand.
“Backpackers” explores themes of blackness, and ostensibly backpacker hip hop (Aesop Rock, etc.), but it’s more linked to Gambino wrestling with his image in the black community. Then enter ”Hold You Down” – a track dedicated to exploring his relationship to the rest of black culture, his aspirations within and outside of it, which is to say, “I won’t stop until they say James Franco is the white Donald Glover.”
Comparisons to Drake will inevitably be drawn about Childish Gambino – they’re both actors with not very “hip hop” roles trying to be rappers, caught up in their emotions. But whereas Drake comes off as trying excrutiably hard, Gambino is smooth.
He moves around so much thematically that none of the tracks get bogged down by his second-guessing and self-deprecation. Gambino’s interest in serious social commentary isn’t a one-off; it permeates most of the songs.
“You See Me” again returns to social commentary, placing it back-to-back with murderous threats: “Can we hear the N-word one day and not get upset?/Can we try something new and not be suspect?” then only a few lines later “I got a bunch of jackal-ays to the back of me/That’ll lacerate anyone in the back of a matinée/And laugh when I’m masturbatin’ all over your bleeding body/Sick boy forever that’s suburban illuminati.”
For all its variety, “Camp” succeeds. I’ve never watched Community so I’m judging Glover’s work purely as an MC, and the results are good.
“Camp” is out on Glassnote Records. It dropped yesterday.
Watch Childish Gambino perform “Heartbeat” on last night’s Conan:
B”Not really – the handjobs you give are really adequate.” Get it, Glover.