Donald Glover, better known by his stage persona Childish Gambino, is no stranger to releasing mind-blowing, perfectly composed music. His fourth album, 3.15.20, is aptly named after the date on which Glover teased the world with the first taste of the album before removing it from his website. The record is full of quirks, such as most songs being titled with their time stamp, and charged lyrics addressing world problems and Glover’s personal qualms.
“Algorhythm” is the star of the album, a gloriously funky track that stays true to its name. It’s as if Glover calculated each beat, synth and lyric to seep into listeners’ bones, inspiring them to dance, which he probably did. “Everybody, move your body,” Glover sings in the chorus, but listeners already were well before that. The transition into “Time” is seamless, with listeners not realizing they’re listening to a different tune until well into the song.
“19.10” is an energetic but nostalgic song, dominated by heavy synth drums. It is further elevated by a guitar that kicks in about halfway through. Glover’s lyrics could easily be overpowered by the booming instruments, but the melodic quality of his voice coupled with the strong messages in the lyrics prevents this. The power of Glover’s lyrics is clearly reflected in lines such as “I remember back when I was six years old/ Daddy said, ‘The world’s so cold’ ” and “To be beautiful is to be hunted.”
The next song, “24.19,” sounds like something straight off of Glover’s last album, “Awaken, My Love!” It features raw instruments and Glover’s soulful voice, a passionate love song for the masses. The way Glover says “sweet thing” in the chorus is enough to melt hearts. The song has the perfect amount of auto-tune — Glover never overdoes it, instead successfully switching up the tone and spicing things up.
“32.22” turns things dark again, starting off with a deep synth beat. It’s a chaotic song, hence the reference to warlords in one of the verses. The primal nature of the song is a stark contrast to the rest of the album (but only with respect to the instrumentals), juxtaposing especially with the next track, “35.31,” which is a light and breezy number.
The rest of the record retains this lighter note, such as with the soft, airy song “39.28,” though 3.15.20 is still packed with Glover’s signature thought-provoking and witty lyrics. The album transitions well into Glover’s previously released single “Feels Like Summer,” relabeled as “42.26.”
Glover’s two closing tracks are both hopeful songs about growth and love, a means for him to end the lyrically dark record on a reassuring note. “47.48” dives into the theme of the dangers of the world and the fleeting nature of life, but it endearingly features Glover’s son, Legend Glover, at the end of the song. In an outro conversation with his father, Legend muses, “I love myself/ Do you love yourself?” It’s a powerful fade out of an already impactful song.
3.15.20 is a smooth melding of 1980s hip-hop sounds and the bumping bass drum beats Glover is known for. The album is fundamentally different from anything he has ever put out, yet it marries with the striking features from each of his previous releases. It’s more sophisticated, more assured. 3.15.20 an amalgamation of themes from Camp, Because the Internet and “Awaken, My Love!” And while it’s a shame that the record does not feature unreleased live staple “Human Sacrifice,” the record pulls its weight by fulfilling fan expectations after a four-year drought.
The beats are at the forefront of each song, but they do not prevent the lyrics from shining through. 3.15.20 is heavy yet light, disjointed yet coherent. It’s full of juxtaposition and conflicting sounds, but it works, and that is the beauty of what makes Childish Gambino himself.This record still fits the identity of Childish Gambino, but it is a little different. It shows that he is possibly ready to move into a different era of music, perhaps saying his last goodbyes with this album. If Glover chooses to retire Gambino after 3.15.20, he’ll be leaving behind a more than bountiful legacy.
Pooja Bale covers music. Contact her at [email protected].