Donald Glover is a multitalented individual, to say the least. The 28 year old Stone Mountain native is widely known for playing the role of Troy Barnes on the acclaimed NBC sitcom Community. He is also an award-winning writer, writing for programs such as The Daily Show and sitcom 30 Rock. While Glover’s skill set is undoubtedly versatile, Childish Gambino is “just a rapper”, whose debut album CAMP has just been released to the public.
Camp is a tremendous studio album debut for the up-and-coming Gambino. Since the release of the acclaimed Childish Gambino EP, fans have been clamoring for more from the emcee who gave them songs like “Be Alone”, “Freaks and Geeks”, and “Not Going Back”. Those who enjoyed the EP should be excited to know that Gambino uses Camp to pick up where he left off with the release of his previous project.
Camp is a very personal and revealing project for Childish Gambino, which should not come as a surprise to his fans. The majority of his music is heavily introspective and thought provoking, and is focused around numerous themes including race, social classes and stigmata, family life, relationships, individuality, and perseverance. These topics are touched on from the outset of the album and remain present until the end of it. For instance, Camp begins with “Outside”, a track which sees Gambino revisiting his past in order to provide a back story of sorts for the listener. The song details stories of Gambino’s upbringing, touching on several of the aforementioned themes of the album in the process. With lines like “I just want[ed] to fit in, but nobody was helping me out/they’re talking ‘hood s–t and I ain’t know what that was about”, Gambino is able to express how he was a social pariah growing up. Similarly on “Hold You Down”, Gambino speaks on the exclusionary tactics of racism, as well as ostracism within his own race. Stating that “N—-s got me feeling I ain’t black enough to go to church/culture shock in barber shops because I ain’t ‘hood enough”, he shows that his outcast identity has followed him from childhood into his adult life and spreads further than he previously thought. Tracks like “All the Shine” see Gambino turning the lens on himself, offering pieces of self-criticism concerning his identity and authenticity in life and in music. These various storylines are woven together throughout the album and create content that listeners can identify with. The ability to craft relatable material for listeners is one of the strengths showcased on Camp, and will ultimately play a huge part in Gambino’s success as an artist.
Another one of Camp’s great feats is the cohesive sound of the album. While the instrumentation and subject matter varies from song to song, Gambino establishes an overall feel and makes the album more enjoyable as a whole. This is mainly due to the fact that the album was produced entirely by Gambino and . The duo’s sound is often compared to that of contemporary acts like Kanye West. While this is a reasonable conclusion, Camp’s compositions have other influences incorporated into those pre-existing sounds, which include indie rock (“Sunrise”), symphony orchestra (“All the Shine”), house (“Heartbeat”), and even gospel music (“Outside”). Also, Gambino’s rhyme patterns, levels of inflection, and styles of delivery are constantly changing, which increases the replay value of the album as a whole.
In summary, Camp is a great debut for Childish Gambino. While the album has its missteps, the highs do more than enough to balance out the lows. He is a strong lyricist who is able to incorporate witty wordplay into his storytelling, which is shown often throughout the album. Along with Göransson, he has established a distinct sound which is rich and enjoyable. The content of the album is relatable, introspective, heartfelt, and thought provoking, which should have a strong appeal to listeners. Childish Gambino is the definition of hip hop, choosing to find his own identity and express himself in his own manner. “What’s the point of rap if you can’t be yourself?”
Highs: “Outside”, “Bonfire”, “Backpackers”, “That Power”
Lows: “Heartbeat”, “L.E.S.”