Donald Glover has been proving a lot recently that he is one of the more prolific creative minds out there today. He’s a successful stand-up and comedic performer, a skilled dramatic actor, a writer/director/producer/star of an acclaimed new television show Atlanta, and of course, a rapper/hip-hop artist. Under the stage name Childish Gambino he already has a handful of releases under his belt, gaining scores of fans with his unique and frenetic style. His latest offering, however, is completely out of left field.
After keeping the recording process a virtual airtight secret, he has surprised everyone with a big departure from his alt. hip-hop style we’ve come to know. His third full-length record “Awaken, My Love!” is steeped in soul, R&B, funk and psychedelic rock. It bares a deep resemblance to the funkadelic movement of the ‘70s that combined the popularity of psychedlia in rock ‘n’ roll music with the expansion and exploration of R&B’s outer limits. But still, there’s a 21st century flair to it as well; as much as George Clinton and Sly Stone are present influences, so are D’Angelo and Flying Lotus.
From the get-go, its clear this is going to be a different experience. Glover lets out a guttural howl on opener “Me and Your Mama,” a rocking pysch-soul jaunt. From there, the album churns through soulful grooves and hypnotic speaker candy, laced with fuzz-guitars, heavy P-funk low-end, deep rotary organs and wailing backing choir. Glover tests out some new voices on the trippy “Zombies” and the breezy “California,” the latter of which is very reminiscent of Harry Nilsson’s classic tune “Coconut.” Standout track “Redbone” is a smooth and polished jam with tight funk bass. Thematically, the record is very similar to his show Atlanta, dealing with visceral and anxiety-riddled sentiments about life, love, society and unity.
Although it definitely has its odd moments, overall “Awaken, My Love!” is a well-delivered and worthwhile exploration of R&B’s fundamental elements, both past and present. No matter the project, be it his music vehicle Childish Gambino, or his countless works for the stage and screen, Donald Glover is a creative force. The new record is a delightful surprise, and the product of a tireless visionary.