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Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

Childish Gambino’s studio debut succeeds with lyrical honesty

People have been saying for years that true hip-hop and rap music is dead, killed by a lack of originality and honesty.

Donald Glover released his studio debut, "Camp," on Nov. 15. Photo via Glass Note.

Donald Glover is not going to single-handedly save the face of hip-hop, but his showmanship and drive presents an appealing case that he’ll make a good start.

Glover, who raps under the moniker Childish Gambino – a name he found from an online Wu-Tang Clan name generator – dropped his first studio-backed album, “Camp,” on Nov. 15.

The 28-year-old has been making music, alongside his TV and comedy endeavors, with three albums, two mix tapes and one EP under his belt. Add writing for “30 Rock” and “The Daily Show,” playing Troy on NBC’s “Community” and his own one-hour comedy special on Comedy Central, and Glover has an impressive resumé.

Though Glover has a lot of accomplishments to make him newsworthy, “Camp” may be the driving catalyst for his future fame. “Camp” is projected to open in the Top 10 of the Billboard 200 this week, alongside heavy hitters like Drake and Adele.

What makes “Camp” a good effort is the duality in its production and the crazy amount of raw emotion in its lyrics.

The first single, “Bonfire,” features bare synthesizers and sirens with Glover growling out lyrics to the rhythm of a drum machine.  Fast forward to track five, and you get “Letters Home,” a heartfelt ballad with isolated violins.

Other songs like “Fire Fly,” reminiscent of Kanye West pre-808s and Auto-Tune, and “LES,” probably the most modern-sounding song on the album, all hit on different levels.

Production-wise, “Camp” is all over the place, but it works for Glover. His versatility allows him to mesh well with different styles.

His growth as an artist and confidence in his delivery is also apparent and works in his favor. If Glover really cared what most people initially thought about his rapping, he probably wouldn’t still be doing it.

Lyrically, Glover lays out his life story, growing up as an awkward black kid. Lines like “This one kid said something that was really bad/ He said I wasn’t really black because I had a dad … I think that’s kind of sad/ mostly because a lot of black kids think they should agree with that,” and “Dope-boy swag I always wanted that/ but my persona was always more of that Arthur Ashe,” are relatable and put Glover’s life into perspective.

Contrast that with other songs like “Heartbeat.” On first listen, the song makes Glover sound like a cheating womanizer, but it’s really just an honest recount of a failed relationship. Glover lets listeners into his psyche and doesn’t let them go until every secret is out in the open. At times, you wonder if you should be listening, because it sounds so personal.

Just like previous mix tapes and albums, “Camp” is filled with pop culture references and witty wordplay.  It’s not surprising there is some humor sprinkled into the album, but Glover does a good job at not making comedy the focus of his music, a la artists like The Lonely Island.  Listening to “Camp,” you hear an actual hip-hop album, not a comedy skit.

The album closer, “That Power” wraps up “Camp” perfectly. The track buzzes with force and energy, reaching its peak during a monologue that transitions into more of a spoken word piece. Glover retells the story of his first instance of heartbreak, on a bus ride home from camp. He tells a girl how much he likes her, and she runs and tells her friends.

“I told you something/ It was just for you and you told everybody/ So I learned cut the middle man/ make it all for everybody, always.”

Maybe Glover is so brash with his lyrics because there’s no reason for him to hide anything. No matter what the reason, it definitely makes this rapper stand out in a crowd. “Camp” may not be the best album of the year, but it does have the honesty many recent mainstream hip-hop and rap albums are missing.

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