Merry Christmas dudes and dudettes! I hope you got everything that you asked for, and if you didn’t, then I hope you finally learned your lesson and stopped asking for plutonium.
So I’ve been thinking about what to get you guys, and I decided that this Christmas I’d give you a review that’s a little different from the others. I’m going to be diving a little deeper in order to justify why Childish Gambino’s Awaken, My Love! belongs on my (and your) list of best albums of the year.
If you’ve followed Childish Gambino/Donald Glover for some time, then you already know that the man never does the same thing twice. Every role he’s ever played has been different, he’s never told the same joke twice(that’s probably a stretch but it sounds nice so I’m running with it), and every musical project has been different from the previous one. That being said, Awaken, My Love! is his hardest left turn yet. With this project Gambino abandoned rapping completely. You read me correctly, there is not a single bar dropped on this entire album. So if you’re a fan of genre and not music, I honestly doubt that you’ll dig this album much. And that’s okay. I still love you, I have a couple family members who are wrong and I love them just as much as anyone else. On this album Gambino fully embraced the force of the funk. AWL is completely drenched in the p funk sound and you can tell that it was heavily influenced by bands like Parliament and Funkadelic. In fact the album’s artwork is actually referential to the artwork on Funkadelic’s Maggot Brain album. An album that Gambino has said is one of his favorites.
The album also has hints of influence from artists such as Prince, Sly and The Family Stone, The Isley Brothers, and more. Drawing from these influences Gambino was able to create an album that sounded like it came out in 1971 (This is important for later so remember that).
As far as themes go, this album doesn’t have the same narrative structure that his last album, 2013’s Because The Internet, did. However that doesn’t mean that this is a loose collection of disjointed songs. Far from that, in fact. When you listen to this album there are two distinct interpretations that you can get. These interpretations are different, but they also work well together. …”Well… what are these interpretations?” You ask, I shall tell you audience!
The first way you can look at this album is as a talk that Childish is having with his son. Earlier this year it was revealed that the 33 year old entertainer had welcomed a son into the world with his girlfriend(details about the child, and the child’s mother, were not revealed). If you keep this in mind, certain facets of the album begin to make a great deal of sense. The songs Me and Your Mama and The Night Me and Your Mama met take on a certain significance. Through these songs CG is telling his child about the relationship that he has with the child’s mother, and while it not be a constant storybook romance, the night that they met was full of magic and serenity. Zombies serves as a warning to the child. When you start to become successful, there will be people who will try to feed off of you and that success. This song is telling the child to be wary of these people because once they sink their teeth into you, there will be no where to hide. Baby Boy is a story of how Gambino felt about his son when he was born, and how he was worried that with the tumultuous nature of the relationship he had with the child’s mother, she would leave him and take his newfound pride and joy away from him. Finally, Stand Tall is ‘Bino giving his son the same advice that his father once gave him. Stand tall, stay positive through times of hardship, and no matter what don’t let the world steal your dreams and hopes away from you. CG has accomplished much by following this advice, and his greatest hope is that his son does the same and accomplishes more when it’s his time to shine.
In 1971, Marvin Gaye released what many consider his greatest work: What’s Going On. This nine track album was a concept album that was told from the perspective of a Vietnam War veteran who returns to the states and is absolutely repulsed to find that while he was fighting to spread the freedom of his country, all that awaited him was a land filled with suffering, hatred, and injustice. This album dealt with a number of issues, but one subject that it kept coming back to was the subject of racial inequality in the United Stated. The civil rights movement was ten years prior and while some progress had been made there, tensions between the black community and the system that they were forced to lived in were at an all time high. Through music like that of Marvin Gaye, as well as other forms of entertainment like blaxploitation films, black people were able to air out the frustration that had been welling deep within them for as long as they could remember.
So what does all of that have to do with this Gambino album? To put it simply, black people are frustrated(honestly that’s an understatement) still. While some areas have improved drastically since the 70’s, others have depreciated or have been stagnant since and that is unacceptable. With police brutality still going largely unchecked, struggling to keep our culture from being appropriated and watered down, the incarceration rate of African Americans still being insanely disproportionate to that of other races, and the exhausting intricacies of dealing with subtle racism day in and day out black people have quite a bit to be frustrated about. If you listen closely to Awaken, My Love! you can hear some of that frustration mirrored in the music. You can see that this album is a portrait of the state of the world today from a black perspective.
Looking at the song Boogieman, you get a little bit of this interpretation. The boogieman character that ‘Bino is referencing actually has a dual meaning. It is clear by the refrain “with a gun in your hand I’m your Boogieman” that he is speaking about police officers who, despite being the one with a gun, is the one who for whatever reason is fearful. This is very relevant after yet another year where many lives of African Americans have been lost at the hands of an officer or another who claimed that their reasoning for discharging their weapon was because they feared for their lives. In those situations, the black individuals were seen as the bogeyman. During the chorus we hear calls for the Boogieman to help “us”. This is expressing the need for music to made to help get people through the pain that they live through on the daily. We need something to boogie to in order to take our mind off of all the tragedies that befall us. This is why the song spells the word as b-o-o-g-i-e-man as opposed to the usual b-o-g-e-y-man. Zombies speaks of cultural appropriation.
Black culture is almost synonymous with Pop Culture these days. Hip-Hop is the biggest music genre in the world, Kevin Hart has been people’s favorite comedian for years, and every dance craze that has hit in 2016 was created by a person with a large dose of melanin(along with a sort of catchy, but mostly annoying song…looking at you iLoveMemphis…). Yet when we see merchandise from these things, rarely does the profit go to the inspiration for the merchandise. Or even worse, we see others (poorly) attempt to copy it and they somehow get rich off of it, sometimes the copy becomes more successful than the original!(sounds like a shot at Desiigner, but it’s not). The lyrics sung by Kari Fox in the hook speak to this sentiment perfectly “They’re eating you for profit/There is no way to stop it”
Riot speaks to the rising frustration of the black community as they deal with so many issues at once. “I can feel it deep inside my body…this pressure brewing/This world don’t feel alright” Baby Boy displays the fears that Gambino has about bringing a child into a world wrought with so many of this issues. This is him begging society/ the world not to take his child away from him. He wants his son to live a full life and doesn’t want it to be cut short like the lives of many young black males of today. In Stand Tall, much like with the first interpretation, CG is giving advice. He isn’t just giving advice to his son, but to the black community as a whole. He’s telling us despite all of the hardships that we continue to face, that we must walk tall. We must never give up. He’s telling us to stay positive and avoid being sucked into a void of frustration and cynicism. In this song he tells us to “Smile when you can”.
So yeah, I have more that I could say about this album, but this post is already SUPER long and I don’t want to traumatize you with anymore words. Obviously this is different from the way I usually do things and honestly, I’m unsure how I feel about this direction. Luckily, I have you guys! So tell me how you felt about this one. Tell me if you liked it. Tell me if you hated it. If you’re okay with it, but you still want a review of this album in my normal (and shorter) style then let me know!
Overall Rating: 9/10 (We needed this album more than you know)
Standout Tracks: Boogieman, Zombies, Terrified, Riot, Baby Boy
Favorite Line: Every boy and girl/ all around the world/ Knows my nigga’s words/ But if he’s scared of me how can we be free?
There’s Some Flava For Your Ear(hopefully not too much)