Childish Gambino flourishes through funk

Artist finds niche in third album, explores virtues of vintage sound

Ethan Brown

Fair use from Glassnote Records.

Throughout his career, Childish Gambino’s many endeavors have vaulted him to the forefront of musical creativity. But his newest release, “Awaken, My Love!” finds the multifaceted artist in a world, and genre, entirely of his own.

Gambino, a musician, actor and writer who hails from Atlanta, has made a career off constantly pushing the boundaries of whatever project he chooses to undertake. After an incredibly successful pilot season of his FX show “Atlanta,” Gambino released his third official album, “Awaken, My Love!” on Dec. 2.

The album’s complete difference in sound from Gambino’s past works are prevalent from the very beginning. The intro, “Me and Your Mama,” boasts moving vocals from a choir until the track shifts its tone halfway through, with Gambino showing off his impressive emotional and musical range over a soul-inspired instrumental. The whole track seems very reminiscent of George Clinton’s band, Funkadelic, a sentiment carried throughout the album.

In terms of production, the album is nearly immaculate. Each song’s mood separates itself from the rest of the tracklist, but still comes together to create an incredibly cohesive project. The entire album feels like the product of mixing a Funkadelic album, soul legends like Curtis Mayfield and adding a small amount of Prince to finish. This works to Gambino’s advantage at every point in the album and gives him a place in rap and R&B’s funk renaissance movement, started by artists such as Kendrick Lamar and Chance The Rapper.

Vocally, Gambino tends to struggle with finding the boundary between overplaying certain vocal styles and using them to add to his perfect production. The song “California” specifically displays a fantastic instrumental gone to waste because Gambino’s vocal styles are too whiny and strange to understand. Although the instruments behind him create a fantastic song, its strengths are overpowered by a lack of direction in Gambino’s vocals.

Although vocals are certain song’s downfall, they also show Gambino’s incredible potential in this newly forged genre. The song “Baby Boy” finds Gambino singing to his newly born son about the flaws of his relationship with the child’s mother. In what sounds like an impeccable Curtis Mayfield impression, Gambino creates a beautiful narrative through his vocals and still allows the production time to breathe. “Redbone,” which harkens back to Prince’s funk-inspired music, beautifully samples Bootsy Collins’ “Rubber Bands” and shows Gambino’s falsetto at a new high, literally and metaphorically.

Gambino’s latest effort shows he could very well take a place in the new world of R&B, which moves closer to the sound of old-school funk and soul with each year. The funk of Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp A Butterfly” and soul of Chance The Rapper’s “Coloring Book” are fully realized on Gambino’s full-blown funk album, “Awaken, My Love!” Although he may choose to once again transform his artistic view, Gambino’s certainly reserved his spot in the limelight of music’s newest adventure.

“Awaken, My Love!” by Childish Gambino: 8.5/10

Best Tracks: Me and Your Mama, Boogieman, Redbone, Baby Boy