This isn’t a review. It’s more of a “you know what grinds my gears” moment regarding young music fans/critics and today’s mainstream music consumption. Childish Gambino’s Awaken, My Love is getting some tremendous buzz currently and the social media snowball effect is in play, right alongside J. Cole’s new album. Praise for both at times just has me looking at certain critics and wondering when their appreciation for music started and if they’ve actually heard anything before that date.
I’m going to come clean for those who aren’t aware – I’ve never been a fan of Childish Gambino. I first heard him on Camp and I found that I just didn’t care for his story. The whole “I was too nerdy for the Black kids – look at me, I’m awkward!” shtick just tended to wear on my nerves, just as his character on Atlanta sulking through every episode rocking his angst like a Pelle Pelle killed all of the non-Paper Boi scenes for me. He comes across way too often as if he’s trying to assert himself as the smartest guy in the room without just relegating himself to the straight-man role. Musically, though, I’ve always felt a twinge of guilt about not liking the guy. A lot of my respected peers like his work and technically, he can rap – I just don’t care about his story. However, I did hear him sing once and liked it, so when I heard he was doing more of that on Awaken, My Love! (and this is probably the last time I’ll be writing that title with the exclamation point intact), I decided to make a conscious effort to approach it with new ears – and I did.
As a person who can’t stomach Childish Gambino as a rapper (his appearance on HBO’s GIRLS didn’t exactly help his case), I was surprised at myself for (1) pressing play and (2) liking the hell out of this song, a cover of one of my favorite R&B songs of all time. Not too shabby, Mr. Glover.
The new music’s been piling up, so I decided to include a few reviews in one post. Look out for that Common The Dreamer/The Believer album review coming soon. I’m also working hard to bring you all a recap of some of my favorite mixtapes and freEPs of 2011, so you can get your late-pass downloads in before the end of the year. Peace.
- The Pilgrimage ◊ Cappadonna – Cappadonna has always been one of my favorite hip-hop oddities. Definitely one of the most abstract of MCs of the Wu-Tang camp (and that’s saying a lot actually), Donna’s blend of NYC tough-talk and Five Percenter ideology is something that is an acquired taste for a rare group of fans to truly appreciate. Cappadonna still holds it down solo, despite the noticeable absence of Ghostface and Raekwon and the sounds of RZA on the boards. Worth a listen for Cappadonna fans, but I’m definitely missing the days when he was embedded deeper within the Wu ranks and we could expect at least one Rae or Ghost feature and/or RZA as executive producer because that chemistry would have made this album more memorable. Standout Tracks: “Dart Imports”; “A-Alike, B-Alike, C-Alike”
- Well Done ◊ Action Bronson & Statik Selektah – Nothing much to say about this except echoing the title: well done. Action’s had a good year, from multiple features to the Dr. Lecter album that dropped earlier this year. Underrated producer Statik Selektah provides the backdrop for Action’s 90’s-era wordplay and Kool G Rap influences, bringing something that’s so nostalgic it comes off completely fresh and new in this day and age. Support this disc. Standout Tracks: “Terror Death Camp” (f. Meyhem Lauren, Maffew Ragazino & Ag Da Coroner); “Keep Off The Grass”; “Central Bookings” (f. Meyhem Lauren)
- Break Of Dawn ◊ Goapele – Goapele brings a different look to the table and also happens to have a great live show. It’s almost unfair to pigeonhole her as “neo-soul” because if you just got the music without the image (she debuted with locks, then shaved it all off and now rocks a very chic braided style), you would probably just call it R&B as it should be. The dopiest thing about Break Of Dawn and Goapele’s music in general is that it’s unapologetically feminine…no rappers guest starring or tracks designed to appeal to people who aren’t ready to hear some love songs. We need more of that. There’s definitely some filler, as with most albums, but overall it’s a solid album made for chill in’ with the significant other. Standout Tracks: “Milk & Honey”; “Right Here”
- Camp ◊ Childish Gambino – I sincerely wanted to like this album…I really did. And upon first listen, I found it enjoyable, but as with a lot of artists, I listened closer to what he was saying in detail…and that’s when the ceiling fell in. Childish Gambino, also known as actor Donald Glover (best known for his role in the TV show Community), has some serious issues that become all too apparent on Camp. I was thoroughly impressed with tracks like “Bonfire” and “Backpackers”, even likening him to a poor man’s burgeoning Kanye West in terms of his emotive delivery and left-field POV, but upon further review I found there to be all too clear to me that Gambino has some rather off-putting identity issues. While he spends half the album complaining about not being considered “Black enough” growing up or currently by critics, the other half is spent over-expressing his penchant for white and Asian women on a number of songs where it doesn’t even seem necessary. Hmm…the Black women weren’t checking for you as a youth based on your “white boy” diction so this is your revenge? Come on, bro, grow up a little. Just when you think he’s on the verge of self-awareness, he plummets right back down into the depths of self-hate…or at least into the depths of grappling with the idea of “Blackness” and seeming to lose miserably. I’ll come back to the music when he’s sorted this out. No thanks for now. Standout Tracks: “Backpackers”; “Bonfire”
- A$AP Rocky ◊ LoveLifeASAP – No, you can’t be serious. I know I’m late to the party, but the model-infested kegger you guys have been hyping for months claiming to be the party of the century turned out to be a 13-year-old band geek’s birthday soiree. Did he just refer to himself as a “pretty motherf*cker”? Yeah, he did. I’m outta here. It’s not that I went into listening to this fully convinced that this would be the mixtape of the year or anything; I find that I’m often not as impressed with things as the masses are (see: The Weeknd, Frank Ocean, Lil B…we can go for another paragraph here). I went into it assuming this would be at least listenable. What I got was a juvenile rapper with a knack for totally abusing the hell out of some dope production…and not in a good way. Standout Tracks: …naw, bruh.