Writer: Kyle Wheelock
It’s been just over a year since Donald Glover a.k.a. Childish Gambino released his third studio album, “Awaken, My Love!”, and a lot has happened since then. Clocking in at just under 49 minutes, “Awaken, My Love!” contains 11 tracks of R&B, funk, soul, and psychedelic rock all blended together. The album is a major departure from everything else in Gambino’s discography; all of his other works have been hip-hop oriented with sprinklings of R&B occasionally. But, when “Awaken, My Love” dropped, fans got something completely out of left field and, for the most part, reception was pretty positive.
As of now, the album has a 77 on Metacritic, which translates to, “Generally favorable reviews,” and I personally agree. “Awaken, My Love” is a throwback to the sounds of George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic, Kool & the Gang, and even Prince at times. The intro track, “Me and Your Mama” is a beautiful ballad with a hypnotizing bell melody and an ominous synth lead supporting it. It’s all very ominous until the breakdown at the 2:03 mark (which, side note, is personally one of my favorite musical moments of 2016), when Gambino brings the funk in, and lets us as listeners know what we’re going to be in for. Every track from this point onwards sounds like it was ripped from an old Motown studio, and at no point is that ever detrimental to the final product.
Everything about this album is a callback to older sounds, from the groovy basslines and riffs to the eccentric synths. Even the lyrics and song titles themselves are influenced by that of older funk albums, with double entendres that are totally open to interpretation. For example, is, “Zombies” about a woman? Deadbeat friends? Or is it about gentrification and police brutality? The lyrics work in each of these scenarios and it just adds another layer to each of the tracks, just like a vintage psychedelic soul track from the 1960s and 70s would.
On “Awaken, My Love!”, Gambino takes and old sound and executes it to perfection without sounding like he’s just rehashing other artists. Yes, the album sounds like it could’ve been made by Sly and the Family Stone, but it still manages to bold and refreshing, which only speaks to the creativity and boldness of Donald Glover as a person. The man is talented, he’s found success in all his ventures, be it writing, comedy, acting, or music. He’s come a long way from the days of Derrick Comedy and the I AM JUST A RAPPER mixtapes; he now has numerous awards to his name for his work on 30 Rock, Community, and Atlanta. And now, maybe he’ll soon be able to add Grammy winner to that list.
Initially when I began writing this article, it was merely intended to be a look back at one of my favorite albums of 2016. However, in the middle of writing, I saw that Glover received five Grammy nominations for his work on “Awaken, My Love!”, including album of the year. This is an incredible nod for Glover, but even more than that I think it speaks more towards the shifting culture in the United States. Historically, award shows as a whole have been accused of being prejudiced towards artists of color when it comes to nominations and awards, but maybe perhaps this upcoming Grammy Awards show will be different.
Neil Portnow, the academy’s CEO and president, said the organization took time this year to work hard at diversifying its voting membership, and it shows. After years of being accused of not giving Black and Latino artists the acknowledgement they deserve, this year’s nominations for album have four of the available five slots occupied by musicians of color. Other big name categories like record of the year, song of the year, and best new artist all have at least 3 out of 5 nominations going to either Black or Latino musicians.
No I.D., legendary DJ and producer (left) said in an interview with The New York Times that, “What they call urban culture is now pop culture. Sometimes the weather changes, the seasons change. We’re just in a season where the world loves this culture of music.” and it seems that, at least for right now, he’s right. “Awaken, My Love!” is an absolutely incredible album that has deserved all the nominations it’s received and the fact that it was able to get this amount of recognition while socially conscious is a testament to where we are as a culture.
Maybe this year’s nominations are just a ploy by the music industry to reinvent themselves in the eyes of the public and get some lost rating back, or maybe this is really the direction that the media is moving in. We may not know the answer to this for a while, but right now it seems like a promising sign of things to come. In any case, congratulations to The Recording Academy for listening to the people, and congratulations to Donald Glover for creating such a well put together piece of work.