Childish Gambino – Camp
Release Date: November 15, 2011
Record Label: Glassnote
Donald Glover opened his 2010 mixtape Culdesac with a dreamy track called “Different” in which, under the moniker Childish Gambino, he explains how he's just a rapper yet unlike all the other rappers. And from there on out, he exemplified that throughout the aforementioned mixtape as well as a free-p that was released earlier this year. Now, the hype for Childish Gambino has been building up for a while (it began when “Freaks and Geeks” first dropped and it only increased after a live video of Glover performing first single “Bonfire” hit the internet), and fans and critics alike are expecting his proper debut album Camp to shoot Glover to new heights.
Camp features 13 versatile tracks that show off Glover's wit, ambitions, struggles, and more. There is something for everyone here. Listeners ranging from hipsters to hip-hop heads to novices will all find something to love here. What draws you in to Childish Gambino's music is Glover's incredible wit and sharp tongue. Double entendres, puns, and punchlines reign supreme on Camp, covering topics that include the Virginia Tech shooter, French filmmaker François Truffaut, Mumford & Sons, Casey Anthony, and more. Anything and everything is fair game in Glover's wordplay, and, more often than not, each line lands effectively. Glover successfully interjects these pop culture nuggets into his personal stories about his struggles with social status, racism, and love, thus absolving his lyrics from being too gimmicky.
What gives Camp its substance is Childish Gambino's backing band. Led by Community composer Ludwig Göransson, the band weaves together beautiful compositions and hard-hitting beats with a dizzying array of strings, brass instruments, 808's, keys, and guitar. Take opening track “Outside” for example: Glover lays out his emotional baggage of growing up poor amongst swelling strings, crashing cymbals, and a massive chorus anchored by a powerful choral group. The track sets the tone for Camp, informing the listener right away that this is going to be something special. This leads into the absolutely vibrant “Fire Fly,” which feels like a throwback to the 90s. This is celebration music here, as Glover boasts on how he's getting more recognition as an artist.
Glover also knows when to amp it up. First single “Bonfire” (the first track released from Camp that really sparked interest for this album) is basically “Freaks and Geeks” on HGH. Bass drops, a staccato drum beat, and repetitive backing vocals lay the groundwork for Glover to unleash a litany of puns, jokes, and boasts (Invader Zim, Princess Di, and Filipino fast food joint Jollibee are just some of the pop culture references here). What makes Camp so remarkable is how quickly Glover can change attitudes from song to song. Immediately after the intense “Bonfire,” Glover dives into his insecurities on the string-ladened “All The Shine.” Despite all the success, deep down, Glover is still trying to figure out his path in life (with “Letter Home” working as a reprise that takes the previous track even further).
Glover is truly a paradox. Throughout the album, there are moments when he thinks he's greatest thing since sliced bread yet still he's shunned by his peers and is yearning for acceptance. Or that he seemingly has his way with any woman but is also confused by their actions. One thing that stays consistent on Camp is Glover's confidence. On the menacing “Backpackers,” he states “I'm lame as fuck homie/but I rap like these ****** ain't got shit on me,” and basically torches the hip-hop fans who don't take him seriously. The track will go down as one of the most aggressive in the Gambino discography and shows off an anger you rarely see with Glover. He isn't done calling the genre out though, as he flexes on the triumphant penultimate track “Sunrise.” The soaring track features a thunderous chorus once again backed by a choral group, as they chant “Ay, what it do, bitch? Why these other rappers do shit stupid?” He calms down a bit on the piano-heavy “Hold You Down,” but the passion still remains. With the violin pierces in and out of the track, there's a different kind of intensity from Glover here as he tackles the racism and stereotypes he faced then and faces now.
Speaking of the violin, it plays a huge role throughout Camp. It sets the mood for the shimmering “L.E.S.,” as the romantic melody is the closest we'll ever get to a Childish Gambino love song. And it rivals the xylophone on “Kids (Keep Up)” as Glover discusses the pros and cons of love, how he wants a girl to keep up with his lifestyle, and realizes that both sides are to blame (“Women talk shit on men like all day, but it's Pete Wentz: goes both ways”). Of course the mood doesn't stay all roses for long. On techno-infused “Heartbeat,” Glover laments the end of a failed relationship (“So we’re done/This the real shit?/We used to hold hands like field trips”) and really goes in against the woman who crossed him. And then there's “You See Me,” a booming track that earns the parental advisory sticker that adorns the album cover. Glover is on the prowl here, offering up coarse gems like “she's an overachiever cuz all she do is succeed (suck seed)” and making it clear that love is not on the agenda tonight (“And I'm cumming on her face/have I gone too far?/I dunno, who cares?/I don't love that broad”).
You might wonder the motivation behind Glover's lyrics, and we find out a little bit why on closing track “That Power.” While the pulsating track begins with Glover spinning off some impressive bars (including a line he dubs “the line of the century”), it concludes with a monologue in which Glover tells a story and the lesson he learned from it. It's a story that carries that dreaded sting of rejection, a sting Glover has utilized to his advantage in his music ever since. Glover states that “I am what I am/everything I wanna be,” thus showing an appreciation for everything he's gone through.
Whether it was intentional or not, Camp works a loose concept album. The music is built so intricately and meshes with Glover's lyrics so seamlessly, it's hard to not see a story here. And really, it's the story of Glover growing up and maturing as an artist. It'll be difficult to find many albums (regardless of genre) that stimulates as many emotions as Camp. Years of hard work and perseverance from Glover has finally paid off and Camp is the culmination of all that, making this one of the best albums of 2011. Glover exclaims on “Outside” that he “used dream every night/now I never dream at all./I'm hoping that it's cuz I'm living everything I want.” With Camp, he's on the verge of becoming everything he's dreamed of and more.