Childish Gambino: Camp
Man, why does every black actor have to rap some? / I don’t know – all I know is I’m the best one
Those lines from Childish Gambino’s “Bonfire,” the first single off of his first release on Glassnote, perfectly exemplify one-half of Donald Glover’s rap persona. He’s cocky, arrogant and knows he’s about to break out of this stratosphere. The other half, however, is more humble and still angry and insecure about events that transpired in his life.
Camp was recorded on his own dime and produced by his close friend and Community composer Ludwig Göransson. It’s clearly an ode to everything in his past, present and future. It’s also a slight departure from his previous releases. This album has more radio-friendly tendencies, but Gambino didn’t necessarily transform into Lupe Fiasco, Common, Kid Cudi or Drake (who he all seemingly channels on the album). In fact he still plays by his own rules and gives us a cohesive 13-song album that explores everything from how his childhood friends don’t think he’s black enough because he grew up with a father to his love for women with variation, especially if they’re very Asian.
The duality of Childish Gambino’s lyrics plays off better than it ever has. One line will express an insecurity then the next he’ll tell his doubters to fuck off and make a joke about his dick again. On “Backpackers” he directly addresses those who refuse to believe a black comedian who wears short shorts can be such a talented rapper. It’s a slow rhythmic beat, but it’s hidden by an angry and furious flow and lyrics to match.
It’s one of the many songs that fans that strictly know him thanks to “Freaks and Geeks” will mistakenly simply brush off as not as impressive. “Heartbeat” is another song that initially seems more radio-friendly with a clublike beat and an R&B feel. Again, the lyrics are tried and true to Gambino Girls and those in Camp Gambino; they’re crass and honest. The lyrics are apparently about a girl, but the song is so much more than that. It’s actually a self-reflection, and it’s revitalizing to see a new take on two staples of rap songs.
The only three songs that even remotely sound like they can have been on anything pre-Camp are the aforementioned “Bonfire,” “You See Me” and “Sunrise.” The rest of the songs are intricately orchestrated tracks that rely on his emotions expressed through carefully crafted lyrics.
It’s one of the few hip-hop albums that is worth listening full through every time to capture the story that is being told, which is capped off with an actual story on the closing “That Power.” After finishing his rap, the beat lowers and Gambino tells a nearly five-minute story that provides what is likely the event that was a catalyst for everything you just listened to, which gives the next time listening to it a whole different meaning.
Even though the album is nearly an hour long, it doesn’t feel that long. No song seems out of place and every single one will be your favorite the moment you listen to it because of extremely quotable songs. Childish Gambino provided an album that is so raw and still so peaceful that even after a dozen times listening to it, Camp still doesn’t get old.
On “Hold You Down” Childish Gambino raps, “I won’t stop until they say James Franco is the white Donald Glover” and for all of our sakes, let’s hope that he doesn’t.