Childish Gambino vs Drake by Drake Lelane
I love it when Drake reviews his namesake. -ed.
Drake’s Take: New Releases 11.15.11
Two actors-turned-rappers face off in this week’s new releases, with Drake’s nuanced sophomore release dropping the same day as Donald Glover’s full length debut as Childish Gambino. Both rappers try to shrug off being called ‘oreo’ from certain circles in hip-hop, both having mostly grown up in white environs, both releases address, in some matter, this insecurity — Glover’s Childish Gambino seeming obsessed about it at times. Elsewhere, there’s the latest from Los Campesinos!, Crystal Stilts, Goldmund, The Do, Odonis Odonis, a live release from Tegan & Sara, soundtrack to a Betty Wright movie with The Roots, and an all-inclusive greatest hits release from recently broken up R.E.M.
Playlist: New Releases 11.15.11
Whether it’s a sign or some weird career coincidence, in the same week that NBC puts Commmunity on the shelf for the winter, actor Donald Glover releases his full length rap debut (Camp, under the moniker Childish Gambino) and has his own stand-up special airing on Comedy Central (Donald Glover: Weirdo on Saturday). While the phrase actor-turned-rapper has never induced warm fuzzies for discerning listeners, with Camp, Donald Glover is proving hip-hop is more than a back-up plan. The kid has flow — wicked, crooked, sick flow. And, in the post-Kanye world, he’s combined the baroque with confessional, zig-zagging between rap’s chest-beating/crotch-grabbing and dealing with his own insecurity of being an oreo — a black kid who didn’t grow up on “the street.” This insecurity both makes this both a fascinating and frustrating journey, as Glover can’t quite find his voice, shifting madly from going for street cred (with f-bombs and the n-word) to being that geek Troy that we love from Community. The Kanye-esque opening track, “Outside,” makes it known immediately that Camp is serious, with its Hair-like chorus and examination of Glover’s childhood, establishing Glover’s alternative world of what things might have been if his parents hadn’t moved out of the Bronx. His insecurity of ‘not being black enough’ becomes more overt on “Backpackers” with Glover addressing criticism from backpackers: “That well spoken token who ain’t been heard, the only white rapper who’s allowed to say the n-word. I buy a bunch of ’em and put it on my black card, now I got some street cred, use it ’til it’s maxed out.” After dropping more f-bombs and rapping about his dick, Glover swings back to the geek, like on “LES,” Glover quips “She got ironic tattoos on her back / that ain’t ironic bitch, i love Rugrats!” and “Fire Fly” has Glover as “the only black kid at a Sufjan concert.”
The frustration for me lies in a wish that Glover would settle in on a persona — and of course I’m in favor in the pop-culture-geek who freely references Pitchfork. It’s not that I don’t appreciate ‘the street’ (I’ve had The Wire in my Netflix queue, wink emoticon), but coming from Glover it sounds less genuine and more like overcompensation. A song like “All the Shine” seems like it should really be a bonafide Childish Gambino hit, with a chorus that demands you download one of those stupid virtual cigarette lighter apps for you phone. But outside the chorus, the song is a white hot mess of Glover’s insecurity. Glover’s multiple personalities keeps Camp from being a great album, but it’s this internal battle on display for all to see that keeps me coming back for more.
In the other corner of the actor-turned-rapper battle is Drake, with his second release, Take Care — an album that is a huge leap in maturity for the Canadian born former star of Degrassi High. After the success of his debut, Thank Me Later, Drake threatened to do an album of straight R&B, forgoing rap for singing. While that didn’t happen, the result at least feels like smooth R&B is the foundation the songs are built upon. It’s incredibly smooth — a marvel in the headphones. Recorded in the same studio that Marvin Gaye recorded his confessional Here, My Dear, Drake does his own navel gazing, with much of album seemingly a brutal analysis of his break up with Rihanna. The object of his pain appears as well on the gorgeous sounding title track, “Take Care,” lending her vocals in response to Drake’s pleading for her to return. Like Glover, Drake also has words for the hip-hop purist backpackers, although, he’s in a much more forgiving mood: “The backpackers are back on the bandwagon / Like this was my comeback season back, back in the day.” Unlike Glover, however, Drake seems a lot more comfortable in his own skin, and far less worried about the “not black enough” haters out there. The result is a smooth and wholly focused album, an admirable achievement for an artist so early in his career.
If there’s any knock, it’s that Take Care is perhaps too smooth, so shiny and comfortable that it doesn’t require the repeat listens necessary to navigate the jagged edges. That’s why I bet I’ll be returning to Glover’s debut again and letting radio airplay handle my Drake needs. For whatever that’s worth.
Los Campesinos! no longer has the advantage of sneaking up on you. Their first three albums came sort of as a barrage, two in 2008 (Hold On Now, Youngster…, We Are Beautiful, We are Doomed) and then another in early 2010 (Romance is Boring), with each giving us a slight take on their unique energetic sound. As such, Hello Sadness won’t surprise anyone familiar with LC!’s sound, with the only difference here being a much darker tone coupled with a general reduction in beats per minute. It’s just another solid release from the Cardiff, Wales outfit, again backed by the steady production hand of John Goodmanson. If you like the band, you’ll get it. If you don’t you won’t. And if you’ve been waiting on the sidelines to try ’em out, now is as good a time as any.
More on the radar (and in the mp3 player) this week:
Crystal Stilts – Radiant Door EP
R.E.M. – Part Lies, Part Heart, Part Truth, Part Garbage 1982-2011
Goldmund – All Will Prosper
The Dø – Both Ways Open Jaws / “Slippery Slope” [mp3]
Betty Wright and The Roots – Betty Wright: The Movie / Free AOL Album Stream
Gym Class Heroes – The Papercut Chronicles
Odonis Odonis – Hollandaze
Tegan & Sara – Get Along
Pterodactyl – Spills Out