Childish Gambino – Camp
It would be easy to write Childish Gambino off as another actor turned musician who is using his success to coast into a music career others would scrape and beg for. However, to write him off would be doing Gambino and yourself a disservice. You are doing him disservice because this hasn’t been an easy entry to the music world. NBC haven’t cooked up a sweet major label deal for Troy from Community, this is Donald Glover’s first record on an indie label after spending three records and two mixtapes developing his own voice, style and fan base. It is a disservice to yourself because Camp is a highly rewarding and thought provoking record.
Ever since Kanye West became a household name, being a rapper who isn’t gangsta has lost some of its unique perspective. Glover attacks this persona with a new ID, he’s not even cool enough to be an uncool rapper. He constantly refers to himself as a nerd, or “the only white rapper who’s allowed to say the N word.” His constant self depreciation works to disarm you against any prejudice regarding his music career prior to listening. He disarms cynics and critics before they can tear him down and at the same time is responding to his school yard bully (“Nerdy ass black kid/whatever man/I’m sick of him” – Backpackers, “If I’m a faggot spell it right/I’ve got way more than two G’s” – You See Me)
For the most part Donald’s delivery is furious. Whether spitting over grinding electro sonics or simple gospel keys, it’s not long until his voice turns to a hoarse braying that is aggressive enough to get the blood boiling and also stick in your mind. Not that he is always running at full speed; Gambino knows when to slow it down. On All The Shine he paces himself, letting the string programming and vocal hook take the song to its climax, and Letter Home is sung entirely. He’s no Frank Ocean, but what he lacks in technical skill he makes up for with genuine earnest.
Race and identity are the records biggest themes. Donald is constantly race checking; black girls, Asian girls, white nerds and ‘Rhianna’s’. Donald Glover is nervous, unconfident and picked on but Childish Gambino is a big dick swinging, aggressive weapon of verbal assault. It all adds up to show a man who is a product of an upbringing where he was always an outsider, who has developed a persona that is bigger than reality to cover the fact that he is now an adult and still not sure where he fits in.
Underneath it all, for all the brash bragging and bleeding hearts Camp is about not knowing where you fit in. If you have ever felt ostracised for your race, sexuality or personality this record will offer you understanding. It may not offer solutions, but every track – from the high voltage bangers to the soulful ballads – lets you know you are not alone in feeling alone. And sometimes that is all you need.