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Childish Gambino returns with soul, funk on ‘Awaken, My Love!’

Austin Bell, Technology Editor, Puma Press

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Donald Glover, under the stage name Childish Gambino, has recently released his third studio album titled “Awaken, My Love!” This comes after his 2013 studio album titled “Because The Internet.” This brand new album comes at a time when Glover should be satisfied as a creative artist. Glover has not only released new music this year, but his show “Atlanta,” in which he created and starred, debuted. It experienced critical acclaim and was renewed for a second season.  Also, he was recently cast in an upcoming “Star Wars” film slated for release in the coming years. This year has seen his mainstream appeal hit an all-time high and shows that labels do not necessarily apply to him; he easily has the ability to embody an actor, writer, and musician.

Childish Gambino’s last two studio albums have seen him not only experimenting with his musical abilities but new ways to present an album to the world. Before “Because The Internet’s” full release came a 73-page script. The script demonstrated Gambino’s acting and writing abilities, exploring a wide range of issues such as family dynamics and relationships with technology. Each of the scenes in the script was supplemented with one of the 19 tracks from “Because The Internet.”

Screenshot of the album cover from Childish Gambino’s Twitter.

Before “Awaken, My Love” was released to buy and stream on various music services, it was performed live front to back three months before the album was released physically. Childish Gambino hosted a three-day concert event titled “PHAROS” over Labor Day weekend. Hosting the concert was another experiment and example of Childish Gambino turning the music into more of an event. Fans had to download an app appropriately called “PHAROS,” which had a timer built into it. Once the timer ended you could then purchase tickets to the three-day event. The concert, which both embraced and dismissed technology, was performed inside a 150-foot wide, 60-foot high dome. Inside the dome, music was accompanied by 3D visual effects that ranged from psychedelic to alien-like. Meanwhile, fans who attended had their phones confiscated before walking into the venue.

“Awaken, My Love” is a far cry from the previous Childish Gambino albums and represents a full sonic shift and evolution. Witty rhymes over modern day rap production are replaced with oozing soul and funk sounds from the 70s and 80s. This is made most evident on the first track, “Me and Your Mama.” Fuzzy guitars, gospel-like choirs, and Gambino’s howl-infused singing demonstrate that this will be a different album. Throughout the album, Gambino is able to channel the energy of past artists such as Prince, especially on the track “Redbone.” The production and singing is done in a way that pays homage but can be made all his own at the same time.

Thematically the album is both equal parts dark and light on tone; on the second track, “Have Some Love,” Gambino calls upon everyone to love one another as times are getting tougher. Other tracks are deceptive in tone and feeling such as “Riot.” While the tone is an up-tempo rock and roll sound, the song speaks of a world of hopelessness. “No good fighting world, we’re out of captains, everyone just wants a better life.” Throughout the album, songs address his newborn son who was born in 2016; this is made the most evident on the outro of the song “Baby Boy.” Childish Gambino leaves the singing behind to deliver a poignant message to his newborn child. “Awaken, My Love!” does end on a rather positive note as Childish Gambino recounts advice from both of his parents on the final track, “Stand Tall.” He then spreads this message to the listener as a reminder to stay positive and continue to keep chasing your dreams.

In a November profile by Billboard, Glover stated, “I remember listening to songs my dad would play — albums by the Isleys or Funkadelic — and not understanding the feeling I was feeling.” He said, “I remember hearing a Funkadelic scream and being like, ‘Wow, that’s sexual, and it’s scary.’ Not having a name for that, though; just having a feeling. That’s what made it great.”

Whereas previous albums contained intense metaphors and similes, he has directed his gaze outward, creating an exercise in feeling and tone to display more mystique with his singing; this leaves the listener to read more between the lines. The album, in some musical publications, has received critical acclaim mixed reception for its embracement of a new style, but for Glover, “Awaken, My Love!” is another accomplishment and notch in his belt for the multi-hyphenate creative.

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Childish Gambino returns with soul, funk on ‘Awaken, My Love!’