Monday, July 9, 2012

A Royal Identity

Based on the past several years, Donald Glover would likely be recognized primarily as a successful television personality. Glover is an award-winning writer for the popular NBC series 30 Rock, and is known for his involvement with the network's show Community. He has had stand-up specials featured on Comedy Central, and more recently started a campaign via Twitter for his supporters to start the trend #donald4spiderman, which eventually gained the attention and support of Spiderman creator Stan Lee for Glover to audition for the part of Peter Parker in The Amazing Spider-Man. Though he didn't end up playing Peter Parker, Donald Glover is pretty legitimate.
While most might know Donald Glover the writer, producer, and comedian, others know him as Childish Gambino, the hip-hop artist. Gambino has been releasing independent and studio albums since 2008, in addition to three mixtapes since 2010, including the featured 'Royalty' project. As an artist, Gambino has been known for DJing and producing his own electronic sound with an evident variety of lyrical repetoires. His most recent studio album Camp has likely been his most celebrated collection of work. Songs like "Backpackers" showed Gambino's grit while records like "Outside" showed his storytelling ability, expressing concerns such as racial oppression and political issues. Even though someone like Barry Nicholson from New Music Express in the UK felt confident enough to call it "the hip-hop album of the year," Camp still received its fair criticism.

"I sent a long text message to my mom and pop, I got the same speech when I left 30 Rock, my mom like, 'Why you wanna leave a good job?' My dad like, 'Do your thing, boy, don't stop.'" ("We Ain't Them")

'Royalty' is Childish Gambino's best collection of music to date. Much like his work of the past, Gambino brings diverse sounds which makes each song a different experience. Still, 'Royalty' seems to incorporate some of Gambino's best head-bobbing music, if you will. "Arrangement" is a song you can turn up and jump around to. "Real Estate" could easily be mistaken for trap music, where the beat and Gambino's flow take a slower turn with repeating drum patterns and an eerie piano in the chorus. "Unnecessary" brings Gambino back to his unique 'trap' flow with some help from Schoolboy Q and Ab-Soul. In addition to the head-knockers, (as I like to call them) Gambino brings much needed feel-good music to 'Royalty' as well. Whether it be the up-beat anthemic nature of "We Ain't Them", the concepts of success in "Wonderful", or the sweet sounds of Kilo Kish in "Make It Go Right", Gambino brings different themes and sounds that in my opinion, keeps the listener guessing.

What seems evident in Gambino's work with 'Royalty' is his maturity not just as an artist, but as a rapper. You can hear the confidence in his lyrics, delivery, and ideas. In his past work there seemed to be a yearning desire to gain respect, trying to forcibly immerse himself in hip-hop by rapping angry and with less definitiveness. Now, you can hear the confidence in his lyrics. In "We Ain't Them" he explains, "I'm f*cking 'round with the truth, went to see The Roots/Quest brought me back on stage in a suit/I went hard cause n*ggas say that I'm soft/Even Black Thought thought I made it a little hard, I gotta be honest." As the second track on the tape, Gambino almost introduces us to the new him, explaining how he used to "make it a little hard" on himself trying to gain others' approval. "Arrangement" provides more lyrics on the subject, "Love or hate you gotta say the hype is something handsome/As long as all of 'em bloggin' I'm living Richard Branson/Sh*t talkers still talk, haters on my billboard/Used to take the Q home, now I hang with schoolboys." Perhaps this theme of 'Royalty' suggests Gambino's perception of his own evolution. His lyrics seem intent on emphasizing what he used to be (soft, broke) compared to what he is now (wealthy, respected).

More than anything else, 'Royalty' gives a better sense of Childish Gambino's identity as a hip-hop artist. What initially drew me to his music years ago was mostly his intricate sounds. What leads me to believe this mixtape is his best collection of work has plenty to do with his creative production. One of the more creative hip-hop samples I've heard as of late is "Toxic" which samples one of Britney Spears' many hit singles. When I first heard "One Up" I played it multiple times at ignorant levels just because of the lively beat that makes one want to break out into the dougie. But aside from the production, Childish Gambino established his voice and identity with 'Royalty', clearly secure with his lyrics and deservingly comfortable with the music he's making. Or as he puts it,
 "Gambino got first position, the game is ballet/So graceful; drive, he don't need a valet/So angel, fly as I wanna be/Mercy, somebody show these n*ggas can't hurt me."

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