Donald Glover, AKA Childish Gambino, has never been one for labels. A man of many talents, Glover can’t just be good at one thing and stick to it. Some say he isn’t good at anything at all, but that certainly doesn’t stop him from trying.
As a musician/actor/comedian, Glover has managed to get a strong foothold on the hip-hop/rap scene. With subdued, stonerish vibes and trademark quippy lyrics rattled off in an apathetic monotone, even people who typically steer clear of hip hop can admit to sheepishly mouthing the words to his hit track, “3005.” Though he’s garnered a significant following with his previous albums, (“Camp”, “Because the Internet”, and “Kauai”) all tonally similar, he’s grown bored and moved on to something entirely different with his latest release. If his latter works were tokens of baby-faced adolescence, his newest release would be a mustache dawning, fine wine sipping adult.
“Awaken My Love!” is Childish Gambino’s eye popping and enlightened glow up. Dripping in honey and shoulder-bumping funk and heavily influenced by the 70’s R&B/Soul groups Funkadelic and Parliament, it elicits a nostalgia for one of the most groovy and influential eras of black culture. This retro, velvety feel is starkly contrasted with a sense of panic and mania, which is a far cry from his usual witty and detached lyrics. The vocals are eerily frantic while simultaneously adopting a tender and soulful nature that can especially be heard on the track, “Terrified.”
They reflect a state of unease. It’s the unease many feel when they turn on the news to find yet another black man dead and another white police officer acquitted (on the track “Zombies,” the title’s flesh-eating creatures of the night are used to symbolize the merciless threat police pose to Black communities everywhere), or when they learn that 1 in 3 black men are likely to go to prison in their lifetime. Much like the black community itself, “Awaken My Love!” feels shaken and angry, but it also feels proud. Proud of its past and resilience in spite of generations of unjust violence and discrimination.
Childish Gambino couldn’t have picked a more appropriate time to reinvent his music into something more sincere. “Awaken My Love!” packs a punch with meaning and relevance in these polarizing and racially tense times we are living in, and it manages to capture the complexity of current emotions: the frustration of the people as well as the beauty. The last song on the track, “Stand Tall” illustrates it best. “There is more to you and me, there is more than they can see. I’m on your side. There is more out there and somebody cares about you, I do.”
Don’t listen to this album as a fan of Childish Gambino’s other stuff, and don’t listen to it as a fan of R&B and Soul. Either way, you’ll be left unsatisfied. If, like many of young people in Portland, you aren’t a person of color but are filled to the brim with indignation at the ritualistic and systematic oppression of Black people, this is for you. Listen to this album with the intention of gaining perspective and appreciation for a cause that’s been fought for generations. “Awaken My Love!” will shake you. It’ll remind you to get out there because we have to keep fighting.
Words by Kaya Noteboom