Childish Gambino – Camp
Record Label: Glassnote
Release Date: November 15 2011
Back in 2011, I wrote a couple different reviews for rapper Childish Gambino’s major label debut Camp. I praised the record for being a rather unique hip-hop record, but also because I do genuinely enjoy the man behind the name, Donald Glover. I first found out about him through the TV show Community, which has currently wrapped its fourth season. I love the show, but I heard about Childish Gambino through a music website, or just researching him on my own, but I heard the song “Bonfire” and absolutely fell in love. I’m not the kind of person who really listens to a lot of hip-hop, and a lot of people say that, but it’s not that I hate it, it’s just something that’s never interested me. But what I love about Childish Gambino is that he’s really clever. He’s what people refer to as a “punchline rapper,” where most of his raps are clever punchlines and not really much else. Well, for awhile, that’s what Gambino was doing, especially on 2010 mixtape Culdesac (which is wonderful, for the record), but a few songs were more stripped down, whether it was Gambino singing or him rapping “sensitively,” aka talking about rather sensitive topics, such as his love life, racism, or his new found fame. That’s really all he talks about, though. I’ll admit that does get a bit boring, but it’s never awful. He always has very witty and clever things to say, along with a lot of one-liners that most rappers are known for. A song like “Freaks and Geeks” from 2011’s aptly titled EP is one of those songs that mainly feature one-liners. I felt as though that’s what third track from Camp “Bonfire” was trying to do. It was trying to emulate that song, and it does, to some degree. Gambino’s flow is solid, the beat is very catchy and really drives Gambino’s lyrics forward. In fact, I do enjoy the instrumentation on Camp a lot. I also praised the record for that in my past reviews, because there are a lot of organic instruments, mainly violins, strings, and what have you, but some guitar and some drums show up every so often as well.
I’m sure some of you are asking yourselves, “If you wrote a couple reviews for this already, why are you writing another one?” Well, in all honesty, this is one of my favorite records, and while I can see that people may not enjoy it, I absolutely adore Donald Glover and his music career. He may not be perfect, but he’s one of the few “Renaissance men” in Hollywood/music today, and I can certainly respect him for that. I wanted to write another review, because I wanted to see if my thoughts still are the same on this record as they were a couple years when I first heard it. I’ve been playing it constantly the last few weeks to really get into it again, and honestly, it still holds up nicely. Not only in terms of a hip-hop record, but just a record itself, and how I feel about it. I’ve changed a lot since 2011, so my tastes have changed slightly, but I’ve always loved Gambino, even if I’m not crazy about his recent direction in music with 2012’s mixtape Royalty, which had the rapper go into a much more “mainstream” direction, even though I loathe that term. His most recent single “Centipede” is actually very enjoyable, and returns him to what he’s known for, but in a different way. I don’t expect him to make another record like Camp or Culdesac, but he does have a unique flavor to him that one cannot deny. The record does hold up nicely, though, and it’s because of a few things. Mainly, it’s due in part to that Donald Glover/Childish Gambino is still very relevant in hip-hop and pop culture. In music itself, not just hip-hop, bands and artists lose relevance real quick, so it’s a treat to see Gambino still relevant and getting even more popular. Culdesac put him into the forefront of hip-hop, but Camp put him a bit more out there in the mainstream, and more people were starting to take his music career seriously. With Royalty, he got a lot of guest spots on the record, and it really propelled him into stardom. His as yet untitled sophomore record will be the record that either makes or breaks him.
Back to Camp, though, it’s a very solid album. Like I said, the biggest problem I have with it is just he talks about the same things throughout the record, which are mainly girls and relationship problems (which I can appreciate, because most rappers really don’t talk about that, even though I’ve noticed more starting to), racism and specifically racism that he personally has experienced, which I do appreciate him talking about, his new found fame, and just how awesome he is. He makes a reference to that at some point, in eleventh track “You See Me,” where he says “I’m the sh*t, been the sh*t, f*ck a humble brag.” He knows he’s great, so he’s not going to compliment someone, only to make it seem like he’s better, which is a humble brag. He does talk about more serious things, and songs like “Heartbeat” (which is one of my favorites) and “Kids” really talk about his relationship problems or just relationships in general. These are the kinds of tracks that I really can relate to, because Gambino isn’t shy to say that he’s been through a lot of relationship drama and problems with women. In plenty of tracks on the record, though, he does talk about racism as well. He’s called himself a “white black kid” on plenty of occasions, because he doesn’t act like a typical rapper, which is another why I like him. He does stand out, because of his voice, his lyrics, just his attitude. But while I can’t relate to that, I do enjoy how he talks about it. He does talk about these things a lot, but at the same time, they’re not boring or uninteresting. I don’t mind hearing about them, but it is nice to see some variation, and there is a lot. Eleventh track “You See Me” is actually all about Gambino affinity for Asian girls, which he talks about a few points on the record, and other records, too. One of my favorite tracks, though, and the most interesting appears as the closing track, “That Power.” The track itself is really good, and it’s another track that boasts about his fame and how people always have disregarded him, but the song slows down towards the middle for an anecdote by Gambino, where he talks about a bus ride home from one year at summer camp when he was a kid. And about how he told this girl he liked her and how things didn’t go well. It’s an interesting story, and it shows him being himself, not a character, but he’s just speaking earnestly, and it’s a good story. It also kind of explains the title of the record as well, because the theme of camp really fits into it, obviously. It’s a nice end to the record, and for being an hour long, it surely doesn’t feel like it. But honestly, if you’re a fan of hip-hop, or even just really like awesome music, this is something worth checking out. I love Childish Gambino, and I know I may be rather biased, but this record still holds up after a couple years, so it’s really worth a listen.