This is the cover art for “Awaken, My Love!”. (Courtesy of Glassnote)
Even if one has never listened to Childish Gambino, also known by his legal name Donald Glover, it is more than likely that they have still been exposed to the musician, actor, screenwriter, comedian and producer in one form or another. Glover has appeared on FX’s “Atlanta,” NBC’s “Community,” his Netflix stand-up special “Weirdo” and most recently, his third studio album, “Awaken, My Love!” as Childish Gambino.
“Awaken, My Love!” can be looked to as a direct follow up to “Atlanta,” which Glover himself described at the TCA press tour last year as, “to show people how it felt to be black.”
This idea is explored again in “Awaken, My Love!” as Glover departs from his role as a rapper and takes listeners through his personal exploration of soul, funk and R&B, drawing obvious influences from memorable 1970s black musicians such as Earth, Wind & Fire, Smokey Robinson and the Ohio Players. The album blurs the line between Glover and his Gambino alias and results in a piece of work that is finally able to push him outside of his above-average rap career and into the role of an acclaimed musician.
Opening track and lead single, “Me and Your Mama,” features a gospel chorus that provides the listener with six minutes of slow burning soul that becomes a dazzling audio acid trip, before introducing Glover’s impressive falsetto around the two minute mark.
This song, like nearly every song on “Awaken, My Love!” features both visually descriptive and imaginative lyrics like “This is the end of us/Sleeping with the moon and the stars/ I know where you’ve been,” which tells the story of someone reminiscing over a long lost love (“Let me into your heart/oh, this ain’t no bullshit/I really love you girl”). When paired with Glover’s vocals, he easily convinces listeners that they too are longing for something or someone.
In “Boogieman,” the third track on the album, Glover sheds light on the current state of race relations plaguing the United States. With lyrics that directly allude to police brutality such as, “If you point a gun at my rising sun/Though we’re not the one/But in the bounds of your mind/We have done the crime,” Glover compares the imaginary “boogeyman” figure that is feared by children to the phenomena where black men still strike fear in the hearts of many Americans.
Like many of the lyrically layered songs on this album, “Boogieman” presents a racially-charged double entendre, commenting on the love for black culture that America has, juxtaposed with the less than subtle fear of minorities that are still prevalent. “Every boy and girl all around the world/Knows my n—–’ words/But if he’s scared of me, how can we be free?”
“Redbone,” the second single off of the album and sixth track following “Riot,” is another track which showcases Glover’s expansive vocal range. The funky love ballad which samples “Portraits of Tracy” by Jaco Pastorius could easily fool listeners into thinking they are listening to a song from the 1970s.
Later on in the album, “Terrified” is a track whose slow and ominous funky instrumentals perfectly match its title. Ending the album with “Stand Tall,” a track that starts off quietly as Glover reminisces on his parents words of wisdom to him and ends with yelling and howling vocals, Glover expertly ties up “Awaken, My Love!” with a parting message to the black community: “Keep on your dreams keep standing tall/ If you are strong you cannot fall.”
“Awaken, My Love!” is certainly one of Glover’s stronger musical pieces of work up to date and demonstrates his vast musical palette that can be heard through the various influences on each track. Although a complete turnaround from the usual eye-brow raising lyrics that Glover has written on his previous albums, “Awaken, My Love!” has proven itself to be an exhilarating journey into the land of funk that listeners of all backgrounds can find a connection with.