Childish Gambino's New Album Is A Funky Left Turn

Dec 9, 2016
Originally published on December 9, 2016 6:33 pm

You may know Donald Glover from his TV roles on 30 Rock and Community. Or maybe you know him as the creator and star of the hit FX show Atlanta. Or perhaps you know his music alter ego, Childish Gambino. Glover recently released the third Childish Gambino album, "Awaken, My Love!", and even if you know Glover's work, this album may come as a surprise.

For his latest project, Glover transformed a house in the Hollywood Hills into a multi-purpose creative headquarters. By day, he and a team of writers developed scripts for Atlanta. Then at night, the Swedish composer Ludwig Goransson and other musicians would join Glover for marathon explorations of psychedelic soul.

Out of that cauldron comes a head-swiveling left turn, a Childish Gambino makeover. There's very little of his high-speed, 10-ideas-per-minute rapping. In its place: deep, old-school backbeats and wildly passionate singing. Think Prince, Sly & the Family Stone and especially Funkadelic. It's thrillingly alive — not some sort of studied throwback.

Some tracks feature a full band, while others are layered studio creations. It all feels loose and off-the-cuff, a jam session laced with calls to unity and occasionally profound observations about inequality, race and fear.

Since he first appeared, Glover has aligned himself with hip-hop culture. With this project, he's changing camps, shifting his emphasis from brainy wordplay to elaborately textured updates of '70s funk. From the freaky, bone-rattling bass right up to the falsetto vocals, "Awaken, My Love!" celebrates the kind of groove-making that can free your mind.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Maybe you know comedian and rapper Donald Glover from his roles on TV shows like "Community" and "30 Rock."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "COMMUNITY")

DONALD GLOVER: (As Troy Barnes) Cookie Crisp mascot wasn't a wizard when I was a kid. It was a burglar.

CORNISH: Or perhaps you've caught his new hit show on FX, "Atlanta." He's the creator and star.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "ATLANTA")

GLOVER: (As Earnest Marks) I love it. Was is that, curry?

ZAZIE BEETZ: (As Van) Are you kidding (laughter)?

GLOVER: (As Earnest Marks) It's like a very deep curry.

BEETZ: (As Van) That is not - that's...

CORNISH: But right now, we're going to talk about his musical alter ego, Childish Gambino.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "3005")

CHILDISH GAMBINO: (Rapping) I mean it, between us I think there's something special. And if I lose my mental, just hold my hand even if you don't understand. Hold up.

CORNISH: Glover recently released his third Childish Gambino album. It's called "Awaken, My Love!" Reviewer Tom Moon says even if you know Glover's work, this album will surprise you.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHILDISH GAMBINO SONG, "REDBONE")

TOM MOON, BYLINE: For his latest project, Donald Glover transformed a house in the Hollywood Hills into a multi-purpose creative headquarters. By day, he and a team of writers developed scripts for his TV show "Atlanta." Then at night, the Swedish composer Ludwig Goransson and other musicians would join Glover for marathon explorations of psychedelic soul.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "REDBONE")

CHILDISH GAMBINO: (Singing) Too late, you want to make it right, but now it's too late. My peanut butter chocolate cake with Kool-Aid, I'm trying not to waste my time.

MOON: Out of that cauldron comes a head-swiveling left turn, a Childish Gambino makeover. There's very little of his high-speed 10-ideas-per-minute rap style. In its place, deep old-school backbeats and wildly passionate singing, think Prince, Sly and the Family Stone and especially Funkadelic. It's thrillingly alive music, not some sort of studied throwback.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BOOGIEMAN")

CHILDISH GAMBINO: (Singing) With a gun in your hand, I'm the boogieman. I'm going to come and get you. If you point a gun at my rising sun, though we're not the one...

MOON: Some tracks feature a full band. Others are layered studio creations. It's all loose and off-the-cuff, a jam session laced with calls to unity and occasionally profound observations about inequality, race and fear.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BOOGIEMAN")

CHILDISH GAMBINO: (Singing) But if he's scared of me, how can we be free? Yes. Boogieman, yes, you've got to help us. Can you? Yes, you can, oh. Boogieman, you've got help us, can you? Yes, you can...

MOON: Since he first appeared, Donald Glover's aligned himself with hip-hop culture. With this project, he's changing camps, shifting his emphasis from brainy wordplay to elaborately textured updates of '70s funk. From the freaky bone-rattling bass right up to the falsetto vocals, "Awaken, My Love!" celebrates the kind of groove-making that can free your mind.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ME AND YOUR MAMA")

CHILDISH GAMBINO: (Singing) I'm in love when we are smoking that la, la-la, la-la, la-la. I'm in love when we are smoking that...

CORNISH: Donald Glover is Childish Gambino. His latest album is called "Awaken, My Love!" Our reviewer is Tom Moon.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ME AND YOUR MAMA")

CHILDISH GAMBINO: (Singing) I'm in love when we are smoking that la, la-la, la-la, la-la... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.