By Jake Krzeczowski
Childish Gambino’s (aka Donald Glover) Camp is the renaissance man’s first studio offering. If EP was a warning then Camp is the attack, showing the progression of an artist determined to be successful. Having written for 30 Rock and earned a recurring role on Community before his 25th birthday, he is no stranger to the concept.
Whatever name you call him by, the man with the birth name Donald who found his Wu-Tang birthright from a name generator was poised to be a cross-over flop, as any cross-over entertainer is often looked at with raised eyebrows. And while his first offering, I Am Just A Rapper was a minor hit with clever samples from Grizzly Bear, it wasn’t until he dropped EP earlier this year that the witty rhyme schemes and swagger to match really came to the surface. and it is yet another step for Glover in garnering the kind of cross-over success of acts like Drake, and he’s fully aware, as he shows on the unlikely hit Fire Fly. “I’m still not down, but I upped the ante/ me and hip-hop, the Black Sid and Nancy.” Glover’s blending of hip-hop and indie is a refreshing breath into an already diverse rap game, and he’s not the only one noticing.
What was expected was a smooth lyricism filled with smart anecdotes and clever metaphors. An accomplished writer, the words were sure to be there, but Gambino picks up the swag he left on the floor of the warehouse in the “Freaks and Geeks” video and takes it to a new level on the first song on the album, “That Power”.
Demonstrating hunger in his voice reminiscent of an early Lil’ Wayne the young hipster dives in immediately, rhyming over the subtle beat, “Uncool but lyrically I’m a stone-cold killer, so it’s 400 Blows to these Truffaut ni**as,” referencing iconic French filmmaker François Truffaut before singing the hook to boot. Ja Rule wouldn’t even know where to start on that line. The album continues in this fashion, Glover/Gambino eager to prove to the world that he is to be taken seriously, regardless of the shorts dangling somewhere above the knee.
The song that has gotten the most repeat plays on my library has been “Fire Fly”, the beat a mix of 90s west coast and r&b sounds far too sultry for the “only black kid at a Sufjan concert.” As Gambino explains, “These black kids want something new I swear it, something they wanted to say but couldn’t cause they embarrassed, all I do is make the stuff I want to make.”
Dealing with such typical rap topics like telling a girl he just met he loves her, Sufjan Stevens concerts, and Human Centipede Gambino is able to string them together while going harder than many of the more established stars in the game today. Songs like That Power, “Bonfire” and “Fire Fly” are the equivalent to Eminem’s final freestyle in 8 Mile; an open chorus of the grievances and a pledge to make it in spite of those and pointing to the impersonators out there. When being “real” is at an all time premium, Glover shows he is out to make it on his own terms and he is out to lead a new generation of rhyming hipsters and outcasts of the previous hip-hop generations; Camp is a great step toward that.