It doesn’t come as a surprise that many of you probably haven’t heard of Childish Gambino, but you will, in time. You may already know him as Donald Glover, the actor who plays the role of Troy, a lovable nerd in US comedy series Community, but his debut studio album certainly isn’t one for the nerds.
Camp is a hard-hitting, intensely honest open wound that Gambino exhibits to his listeners, full of unashamedly outrageous lyrics and saturated with ingenious cultural references. In all honesty, when I first heard his lyrics I was a little shocked. He juxtaposes shocking and rather explicit lyrics such as Bonfire’s “you can f***ing kiss my ass: human centipede” with puns and penetratingly candid glimpses into his warped life as he struggles to deal with fame and attention-hungry models. His unhinged, brazen monologues are diverse, dealing with sensitive issues such as sex, love, family, class, and most often, race: “every black: ‘you’re not black enough’ is a white: ‘you’re all the same.’”
Regardless, I think what hits people most when listening to Gambino’s rambling stream of consciousness is the pure genius and shock factor of his lyrical content. The actor-turned-rapper unremittingly employs the pause and stop flow, coined by the hip-hop world as “hash-tag rap”, in which a rapper essentially uses broken similes by removing the “like” or “as”. “Can I stay at your place: no hobo” from You See Me being but one (genius) example. This style has been utilized by more prominent rappers such as Drake and Big Sean, but Gambino does it better. His poetic license is never-ending.
However, the real brilliance resonates through in the rapper’s ability to combine this potently ingenious and shocking content (“rap step-father, yeah you hate me, but you will respect”) with more tender songs, such as Kids (Keep up) and That Power where Gambino displays his singing abilities. All this, mixed with his thoughtful sentiments on class and racial issues, such as inHold You Down: “this one kid said something that was really bad, he said I wasn’t really black because I had a dad, I think that’s kinda’ sad, mostly because a lot of black kids think they should agree with that,” makes for a truly well-rounded album.
This is perhaps why Camp charted #2 on both the US Billboard Rap album and Hip-Hop album charts and given 4 out of 5 stars by hip-hop’s bible The Source. But still, Childish Gambino is one of the most under-rated rap artists in the music industry. So go, go and buy the album from the guy who found his stage name from a Wu-Tang Clan name generator, give the coolest geek in the class a chance, he needs to be heard.
Popular single Bonfire was released in November 2011: