Donald Glover a.k.a Childish Gambino has embraced the fact that Hip Hop is Pop and taken it to another level. And while the rappers of the 1980’s and 1990’s might have come out of the so called Ghettos of Compton or the Bronx, today they increasingly are innocent teen-star actors turned well-hung college-educated masters of lyricism with a wealthy family background. Some might interpret this change as a loss of authenticity and to a certain extent they might be right.
But the majority of Hip Hop has always been consumed by middle class kids in western suburbs. Sooner or later, those kids themselves were going to start making the music that used to inspire them when they were growing up. This new, middle-class wave of rappers lead on by Drake, Mac Miller and others doesn’t deal with the same topics as NWA did in the 1980’s simply because their reality is entirely different.
They’re not rebelling against societies rules, they adapt to it and try to make the best of them. Their main issue is self-realization and all the headaches that come with it. Over the course of this development, rappers have come to see themselves more as artists with diverse interests and projects in various fields of entertainment and forms of expression.
Both goes for Childish Gambino who released his new mixtape STN MTN along with a EP called Kauai few days ago. The name represents where he grew up, in Stone Mountain, Georgia and where he is now or likes to hang out. In a lot of Hip Hop circles, Gambino has been consistently overlooked ever since he put his first songs online in 2008. Being part of the NBC comedy series Community as well as doing stand-up hasn’t exactly contributed to him being considered a top league rapper, it probably did the opposite. But ever since he released his second album Because the Internet and focused almost entirely on rap, he has been getting more and more attention. Gambino needed his time to find his artistic identity. Now it seems he has touched ground and it shows that he is putting more effort into it than ever before. However, he has repeatedly said that he doesn’t just want to be a rapper and he never wants to be happy with where he’s at and keep evolving artistically, wherever that might take him.
Being afraid of loneliness and of committing to serious relationships as well as wanting to explore the self. All that with a bit of cockiness and humor on top is usually the emotional coordinate system of Gambino’s work. On his most recent songs he adds the themes of being awake or asleep to his arsenal. STN MTN starts with ‘Bino talking about one of his dreams over beat saying that the best of us comes out right after we wake up from having a intense dream. That is, according to ‘Bino when you are closest to being yourself because you have not been confronted with all the pressures a usual day confronts you with.
On the song The Palisades he sings “Love don’t really happen”. This might speak to a lot of people in their twenties. The world is so big, there are so many options, maybe even too many, which is why love doesn’t happen because we’re afraid to truly bond with someone, always having a potentially better future in the back of your head. On Sober, he continues this sentiment.
Retro, using a 80’s style simplistic beat, has a contagious feel good vibe to it showing that not all of Gambino’s is about struggles and trials.
Gambino has been getting a lot of bad reviews for this mixtape for covering too many beats, especially for covering Usher‘s U Don’t Have to Call. But that just shows his fearlessness. Because a true artist does not put music into categories and binds himself to one of them. A true artist is an explorer. He follows his gut and instinct, no matter where that might take him.
While this may not Mr. Glover’s best work at first sight, it is the most intriguing. Just as Kanye West‘s influence is omnipresent in Hip Hop nowadays, so is Frank Ocean‘s and Kendrick Lamar‘s. Gambino combines all of their techniques and makes irresistible Hip Pop with them, which is why you might as well add him to the list of the current greats.