Childish Gambino has traded in the Jesus piece for short-shorts and Top-Siders, and he’s ruthlessly unapologetic about it. Many know Donald Glover, the writer-actor-comedian and once-upon-a-time front-runner to play Spider-Man. Others know him as Troy from NBC’s “Community,” but some may still be in the dark on his other-other name, Childish Gambino.
Glover’s rap career might come as a surprise to many, but to him it’s been a lifetime in the making. In the last two year’s he’s dropped a free album and an EP, which earned him praise from critics and a nod from Jay-Z. Camp marks his first official album release, and it’s safe to say his growing pains are definitely over.
Gambino constantly admits to having had identity issues growing up, a testing adolescence where he was often too black to be white and too white to be black. Gambino wouldn’t call himself the spokesperson for a generation, but his lyrics definitely exhibit a deep rooted desire: “These black kids want something new I swear it/Something they wanna say but couldn’t ’cause they’re embarrassed.”
The lyrics are often very personal, and they’re admirable because of it. His topics range from growing up a Jehovah’s Witness to the perks and pitfalls of fame and everything in between. With unparalleled confidence and clever lyricism, Gambino’s work is reminiscent of Kanye West’s The College Dropout. That is not to say Camp is as good, but the honesty is mutual. West, who was once brushed off for his unconventional approach and stylish use of pink Polos, can perhaps relate to Gambino’s fight against the ‘white-washed hipster’ persona that has for so long weighed him down, one hoodie at a time.
His often dark lyrics are offset by his ability to present content more in tune with hip-hop’s identity. Whether it’s rapping about his love for Asian women, or money as a magnet for gold diggers, Gambino fully embraces the genre he grew up with while aiming to make it his own. Quickly switching gears from being told he wasn’t black because he had a father, to more comedic observations like noticing an ironic tattoo of the Rugrats on a girl’s back, Gambino clearly has the ability to put things in perspective as well provide down and dirty aggressiveness, as is evident in his single “Bonfire.”
The album’s last song transitions into a four-minute monologue that sheds light onto the albums choice of title. He’s on a bus back from summer camp, retelling a story that has evidently stuck with him all these years. It’s a story anyone can relate to in one way or another, even if you’ve never been to summer camp.
So whether it’s claiming the best verse of the century, wanting people to call James Franco the black Donald Glover or talking about his music as an alternative for youngsters as they skate around in their driveway, Childish Gambino is simply being Donald Glover. Gambino’s true success in Camp is his contribution towards making the genre just a little more accessible through down-to-earth honesty, it’s his way of saying that it’s okay to be different, in essence liberating the genre and those who can relate to it.
–— Carlos Monterrey