Childish Gambino Channels 70’s Funk and Psychedelic For “Awaken, My Love!”

by Cierra Johnson

First and foremost, I have been a fan of Childish Gambino/Donald Glover for many years. Since dropping his mixtape Kaui in 2014, he had been laying low in terms of music. When rumors of a new album surfaced, I was ecstatic. When I heard the first single from his new album, “Awaken, My Love!” it blew me away. Judging from the fan reactions, they agreed with me. The album is featureless, and Gambino is handling all of the vocals, an impressive feat for someone who was known mainly as a rapper on his past projects.

After listening to and reflecting upon Childish Gambino’s new album, my first thought was a line from a youtube video I’d seen before that goes, “I’m not a rapper.” There have been many album reviews done on his latest work, and time and time gain I read the reviewer commenting on the fact that Childish is a rapper who does not rap on his latest album. However, if you follow Donald Glover as a whole, he does not allow himself to be categorized or boxed in. In fact, he takes pride in defying categorization. To categorize Childish Gambino as a “rapper” would be to discredit him as an artist. I see Childish Gambino as an artist who raps/sings/writes/produces, who cannot be defined by one thing, and who pushes boundaries

Even so, before listening to his first single, I anticipated a follow-up to his Grammy-nominated 2013 work, “Because The Internet.” I expected to hear heavy, dense, pun-filled rap lyrics. I should have known better, as he never repeats himself twice. His work aims to create new, innovative creations that rebel against convention and repetition. None of his albums sound alike, though none can compare to “Awaken, My Love!” It is completely different than anything I’ve heard from his thus far, and from any other artist in 2016.

While listening to “Awaken, My Love!” I feel transported to a different era. An era where funk and soul music reined supreme with



tracks like “Me And Your Mama,” “Boogieman” and “Zombies.” They are obviously inspired by artists such as Sly & The Family Stone and Parliament Funkadelic. In an interview with Billboard done this year, he mentioned that this album was meant to invoke the same feelings he had when listening to his father’s albums. “I remember listening to songs my dad would play — albums by the Isleys or Funkadelic — and not understanding the feeling I was feeling,” he says. “I remember hearing a Funkadelic scream and being like, ‘Wow, that’s sexual and it’s scary.’ Not having a name for that, though; just having a feeling. That’s what made it great.”

Much of Gambino’s previous work relied heavily on lyrical content. With his latest work he clearly focuses more on the “feeling” he spoke about in his Billboard interview, as well as a certain raw soul that strikes you upon hearing the opening bass in “Me and Your Mama.” There’s also a southern flavor reminiscent of Andree 3000 circa late 90’s/early 2000’s which appears in “Baby Boy” and that I appreciate as well.

A Seat At The Table” by Solange has been a favorite of mine since I first listened to it. “Awaken…!” reminds me of that album in terms of the revolutionary, black power content infused within the message and melodies. That revolutionary message is most embodied in the tracks “Have Some Love,” “Stand Tall,” and especially “Boogieman.” It’s also important to note a quote from a Billboard interview Donald Glover did this year, where he asks, “How do you start a global revolution, really? Is that possible with the systems we’ve set up? There’s something about that ’70s black music that felt like they were trying to start a revolution.” He invokes this same spirit with “Awaken…” and the album could be seen as a call to action after this chaotic, post-Trump election year. The title of the album is literally “Awaken, My Love.” If that doesn’t stand as a call for revolution, I’m not sure what does.

The cover art deserves a few words as well. At first glance I became slightly terrified at the image displayed. It appears to be a black woman with dark, glowing skin and white eyes. Knowing that this album was based off of the revolutionary, black soul music of the 70’s, it makes sense that he would have a black woman on the cover. Her mouth is open in a gesture that could be as a scream of pleasure or pain. Knowing Gambino it could be both. I interpret this cover art to represent someone screaming out, either in pleasure or pain, desperately trying to awaken.

Childish Gambino has outdone himself once again with his latest piece of art. In my opinion, 2016 has given us a few “classic” albums that will be listened to way into the future. “Awaken, My Love!” definitely belongs in such a category, and I have already added this album to my list of favorites.