Review: Childish Gambino's 'Awaken, My Love!' Is An Unexpected, Soaring Funk Opus

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Donald Glover (no relation whatsoever to Danny “I’m too old for this shit” Glover) has completed his full-scale pivot in occupational slashes. He’s gone from talented comedian/writer/rapper you loved to hate, to successful showrunner/Star Wars actor/trending musician you’re absolutely confused by with the release of monstrous, Questlove-approved funk opus, Awaken, My Love!

Glover initially gained moderate acclaim via Upright Citizens Brigade’s Derrick Comedy ensemble, which led to writing for Tina Fey’s hit show, 30 Rock, which led to a mini star-turn as Troy on Community. At the start of his rap career as Childish Gambino, Glover wasn’t taken seriously by anyone except Swedish producer (and main accomplice) Ludwig Göransson (who’s produced all of his proper full-lengths.) 

Early releases included his I Am Just a Rapper series, featuring Glover running awkward bars, fueled by PBR-dependent confidence, directly over indie rock hits of the 2010s. His first label release, Camp, while passable in a vacuum, was waylaid by Pitchfork’s Ian Cohen—who dispensed a grudged 1.6 (out of 10) rating.

2013’s self-aware Because the Internet, coinciding with reduction of his time on Community to nil, marked a significant corner-turning. Along with the album’s success, driven by hit single “3005” and head-twisting Prince-like heatseekers, Glover also picked up a shiny development deal with FX, for what became the universally acclaimed drama Atlanta

Completing the haul—his Q score at an all-time high—he landed the role of Lando Calrissian, first played by Billy Dee Williams, in an upcoming Star Wars project. 

Then he dropped this zeitgeist-seizing freestyle on Sway in the Morning.

But Friday’s Awaken, My Love! is the psychedelic crunch of an album no one saw coming. Singles “Me and Your Mama” and “Redbone” are both drenched in Sly Stone-infused cosmic slop and Parliament circa its Maggot Brain superpowers. Sparse and sexual, “Terrified” screams Prince and recalls fan-approved selections on Because the Internet, such as the wavy “III. Urn.”

Abounding with layered textures, “Boogieman” and “Riot”—both sounding equally at home on a Kool & the Gang or Isley Brothers album—saunter in, smelling of mink full lengths and Kool menthols. On the former, Glover touches on the intersectional fear-mongering plaguing society: “If he is scared of me, then how can we be free?” 

There are very few missteps, Glover’s use of Auto-Tune in the otherwise sunny “California” chief among them. Disappointing those only searching for arrogant-introvert ‘Bino bars, Glover and Goransson have crafted a stirring, life-giving work that revisits ’70s funk by the truckloads, and spotlights Glover’s improved songwriting and composition.

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