album review: childish gambino – camp (2011)

While I had plans to write and put this review out last week, I got lazy and got really tied up with the Drake album. I know that upsets a lot of you, but you’ll have to deal. Gambino is signed and now has an album out, and it’s good to be a fan and be in the position to support an artist who gave you two great releases in EP and Culdesac for free.

Hit the jump for the review, and be sure to go grab the record when you hit a Target or something.

-grizzly

Artist: Childish Gambino
Album: Camp
Release Date: November 15, 2011
Record Label: Glassnote Records

On EP, Childish Gambino deemed himself to be a “Renaissance man with a Hollywood buzz.” This is no secret, either. From his television dabbling in 30 Rock and starring role on Community to all his work with Derrick Comedy, he’s also quite good at all of the above. He turned heads with 2010’s Culdesac mixtape and brought in a huge and cult-like following with this past March’s EP.

Fast forward midway through 2011 and Donald Glover is signing a record deal to Glassnote Records, despite mentions in previous songs about wanting to keep his music free for as long as possible. Regardless, he’s made the right decision. After all, Glassnote is the house that birthed a huge following for bands like Phoenix and Mumford and Sons, allowing for bigger tour and festival spots and precious commodities like NPR coverage.

A few more months later, and we have Camp – Gambino’s first official LP. And if there was any inkling of rap stardom on his previous releases, he fully realizes the potential and comes into his own as an artist on this release. He maintains the eclectic vibes of his previous releases, never shying from orchestral arrangements (“Kids”) and piano-laced beats (“That Power”), all of which are done in house between Glover and Community’s Ludwig Goransson. Goransson has become a centrifugal force in Childish Gambino. Not only is he well versed with a gaggle of instruments, but it’s got to be comforting for Glassnote knowing that they wouldn’t have to shell out thousands for top name producers.

Camp has obvious underlying themes of growing up and finding yourself (both as a person and an artist), and is a strong collection of songs, many of which could see a fair share of crossover appeal. The ongoing conundrum is that Gambino can’t seem to shake off his personal demons (see: lyrics) with race and place in hip-hop – a subject that loses its luster quickly. And while “Backpackers” and “Firefly” are respectively among the best tracks on the album, the subject matter wears thin quickly. Similarly, he’s also eventually going to run out of rhymes about Asian girls and his genitals, and needs to remedy that as soon as possible. All the while, he does manage to throw some heavier subject material into the mix. The finesse of “All the Shine” and the Justice-influenced “Heartbeat” are shoo-ins for the most memorable songs, especially the latter, where he writes about an ex-flame in some of the most depraved and desperate ways.

Camp is a thoroughly impressive listen, especially considering the caliber of raps that have come from someone who spent years living in the shadow of a ‘Bro Rape’ viral video – and now finds himself collaborating with Questlove. Through the flawless implementation of pop-culture references and one-liners, storytelling and an extremely likeable nature, Childish Gambino’s first foray into official studio records is a successful and memorable one. And from a snap judgment point of view, it seems his stock is only climbing, leaving ample room for growth.

Grade: 7.9/10

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