For Childish Gambino, music is therapy. His first full length record on Glassnote Records, Camp, embodies this. Donald Glover's music & lyrics have always had a distinctly human quality to them; almost as if you were being spoken directly to by the rapper while you sit with a notepad, scribbling furiously, as he reveals some of his most personal stories to you.
The record takes the same heart and soul of the music Childish Gambino has been putting out since Sick Boi in 2008 and dresses it up in its Sunday finest. Camp is the first time that Childish Gambino really fills out a arecord. His discography to date has always felt as though he was doing the best he could with the tools he had. Now, he has all the tools he needs & more. The result is a more mature sound with the same raw and honest core. Camp isn't just a record, it's a collection of stories set to music; Gambino manages to cover everything from fame, girls, & euphoria to rage, heartbreak, racism, poverty, & growing up.
"Outside" & "Hold You Down" reflect on Glover's experiences growing up in poverty as a young black boy in a family with foster children & not quite fitting in either the white or black community. They feel like spiritual successors to just one line in a track off his EP from earlier this year: "These smart middle class black kids need a role model.". These tracks also tune into some perceptions of the world from the perspective of an adolescent Glover directly addressing his cousin.
"Firefly" & "Sunrise" are two bright & catchy looks at Glover's then & now; something he does so well. Firefly quite literally begs you to sing along & Sunrise is thoroughly energetic while again exhibiting Glover's passion. It's easy to imagine a huge grin on his face as he wrote lines like "I'm lookin' at her butt; that's that 20/20 hindsight." &, like the best Gambino lines, generates a smile on the listener's face, too.
Almost as if it were ripped from the timeline of my life, "Heartbeat" is the tale an on-again-off-again relation-whatever-it-is to the tune of a mean synth that, according to Glover, took over 3 hours to find. It is instantly danceable, relatable, powerful, & easily my favorite track on the record. It also make for a great addition to a live set. Even without the crowd knowing the words, it brought the house down at Terminal 5 in NYC. This is Gambino at his best.
Glover's vocal performance also really shines (heh) on tracks like "All The Shine", "Letter Home", & "Kids". If it were any other artist, I'd assume he or she could finally afford to autotune, but knowing Childish Gambino, I'd sooner say he took time to hone his instrument with a vocal coach. All the Shine is a strong look inward that gracefully leads into Letter Home which almost feels like an extension of the track prior. "Kids"' use of percussion bells to evoke childhood accompanied by a beautiful set of strings is impossible to overlook. The song does beautiful work of instantly throwing you back to second grade when your crush just didn't like you in that way. It also somehow slips between a kid's and a grown up's perspective in an odd juxtaposition of the two scenarios in what amounts to another impressively orchestrated reminder that many of us are still children in more ways than one.
For those accustomed to Gambino spitting fast clever lyrics, there's still more than enough here to go around. "Backpackers", "You See Me", & the first single off of the record, "Bonfire", showcase the raw talent that bore the Sick Boi. "Bonfire" burns furiously & serves as a hearty follow up to this year's Freaks & Geeks.
For New Yorkers, "L.E.S." is an anthem, referring to my NYC stomping ground as "Lover's East Side" & calling out one of my favorite haunts: "I guess meet me at Pianos.". L.E.S. is such a great example of Gambino's lyrical storytelling. As I ride the D train over the Manhattan Bridge from Brooklyn, I can see the lights of the city, close my eyes and suddenly be in the song. New Yorkers have seen that girl crying on Ludlow, and they know what I mean when I say you're on that hipster shit….but not in a lame way.
The last track on the record may be the single most powerful I've heard from Gambino. "That Power" is a beautiful, catchy, tidy & somehow elegant "Fuck You" to those who ever got in his way. While there are many tracks of his with this sentiment, it's the 3+ minute long spoken word outro to the track and to the record that drive this one home. Set to the smoothed out hook to the rest of the song, Glover recounts a story about a girl that betrayed his trust as a kid on his way home from camp. He makes it perfectly clear that "this isn't a story about how girls are evil or girls are bad", but about how he chooses to share himself with the world.
I can't say a single negative thing about this record. Having listened to everything from Sick Boi to date, I can't help but feel proud. I told Glover this at his NYC show after party in the meatpacking district. He responded that my reaction was exactly what he wanted. He wanted to make something that he and his fans would be proud of. To me, he's exceeded expectations. Childish Gambino's success will never be just about talent. It has more to do with his story about never having gotten off the bus home from Camp:
I told you something. It was just for you and you told everybody. So I learned cut out the middle man, make it all for everybody, always. Everybody can’t turn around and tell everybody, everybody already knows, I told them.
He turned the whole world from something we all fear will one day truly know us into something he could confide in.
Camp is now available in stores.
5 out of 5 bottles