Why 5 years later Childish Gambino's 'Camp' is still a genius album
With Gambino releasing his third album, we take a look back at his debut which celebrates 5 years
Donald Glover (aka Childish Gambino) has been having one of the best years and is in conversations for person of the year. The actor, writer, comedian and artist just released his third album “Awaken, My Love” and so far it’s been receiving mixed reviews. Some love the experimental direction he went in and some miss the clever but still real bars we got in some of his previous releases. That being said I figured now was the perfect time to revisit his debut album 'Camp' which was released on Glassnote records five years ago.
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Donald Glover Hasn't Always Been the Cool Kid
Now personally I love this album, but it seems many are judging the release by some of its more upbeat songs. Tracks like “Bonfire” & “You See Me” have Gambino on his braggadocio effortlessly crushing these beats with metaphors and enough confidence to question your choice of who was the best in rap that year. However it’s the story crafted around those two singles that really make them standout.
See Donald Glover didn’t always have this confidence in himself or his abilities. He wasn’t the cool kid at the table and he dealt with a lot getting to this point of fame he’s at now and “Camp” covers all those personal details and more. “Camp” comes in with ‘Outside’ Glover’s harmonizing with what starts as a soft spoken beat but just before Glover starts his verse the beat takes a more epic feel. Our character here isn’t confident at all, he’s vulnerable, he’s dealing with a lot more than the girls and the celebrity we hear about in the aforementioned songs. The entire second verse covers the financial problems of his parents, the drug issues of other family members that led to violence and all of this is explained vividly by Glover. “Dad lost his job, mama work at Mrs. Winners/Gun pulled in her face she still made dinner/”Donald watch the meter, so they don’t turn the lights off”/Workin’ two jobs so I can get into that white school”. Fam! Those are some loaded lines there and it’s this openess and vulnerability that relates Donald Glover to the listener and makes ‘Camp’ more than just a “Blerd” album.
We can talk the Invader Zim references til I’m blue in the face, but Donald Glover became a hero of mine and others with tracks like “Hold You Down” & “Firefly”. Too many of us myself included can relate to being the person people made fun of growing up. And I know for a fact my brothers and sisters can relate to having to deal with the “not being black enough” conversation from others in and out of our circles. “Culture shock at barber shops cause I ain’t hood enough/We all look the same to the cops, ain’t that good enough?”. There’s a constant tug and pull on this song and others on the record of finding success and happiness in his work, yet somehow still not being enough for others.
When criticizing the record one can definitely argue that this album sometimes doesn’t know what it wants to be. With Glover’s powerful singing juxtaposed to his X-rated bars, I can see how someone wouldn’t take this album seriously. In saying that though I challenge you to look deeper than the radio singles. I’ll admit to an extent I excuse all the mixing between the rapping and singing because he’s so talented at both. It never comes off as jarring or forced, Glover rides the harmonies and then transitions swiftly into a verse. Even in tracks like “Firefly” where he takes the backing vocals in the chorus it fits the tone of the album and meshes nicely with the main vocalist.
Who knows if we’re going to get this version of Childish Gambino back, if I’m being honest I wouldn’t be surprised if we never hear him rap again. However, ‘Camp’ was a really strong debut from an artist who was is still breaking the mold. Childish Gambino has always been in his own lane while being able to step into other lanes as well. OH and I didn’t even talk about the fact that he produced this entire album front to back. “Heartbeat” “Backpackers” all of it was done by Glover. If ‘Awaken, My Love’ wasn’t exactly your kind of thing and absolutely if you’re new to Childish Gambino, check out ‘Camp’ you won’t be disappointed. And perhaps you’ll see that we’re living in the era of a genius in Donald Glover.