Review Summary: Donald Glover takes his time at "Camp" to do some serious evaluation, and he shares it all with his fans
As someone who never had to attend summer camp, I can only relate to my friends’ experiences, but can say with a decent amount of authority that camp is to be enjoyed, with many friends around to share experiences with; but occasionally devastatingly lonely to the point where the one thing you want most in the world is to go home and talk to your parents. If my friends are to be believed, then Camp is not only the most fitting name for Childish Gambino’s debut LP, it is the only suitable name for it. Camp has everything that summer camps purportedly have: times of raucous fun, times of bitter loneliness, and times of evaluation for self-betterment. In this same way, the album has its fair share of ups and downs as we see Gambino- known to most as Donald Glover, aka Troy Barnes from Community- progress as a rapper.
“I am just a rapper,” is one of Glover’s favorite refrains, and serves two functions to make his rapping guise more relatable. On one hand, it emphasizes the irony and wit that Glover frequently incorporates into his lines. Of course he’s more than just a rapper- he’s an award winning writer for 30 Rock, and holds a starring role on Community for heaven’s sake. On the other hand, he just wants to convince us that he is just a rapper, that he was put on Earth to be Childish Gambino and do nothing else. Camp is not only a chance for Gambino to prove to the world that he is ‘just’ a rapper, but it is also a cathartic experience for him, both as a person and an artist.
This catharsis comes in many forms. Gambino spends the first half of Camp regaling us with stories of his newfound fame and success through rapping while also exposing his playful side with tracks like “Bonfire,” which is one of the few songs where Gambino displays his trademark wit and one-liners. It’s like the first week of summer camp where each camper is looking for an identity. Gambino’s is the class clown that remains faithful enough to his family that he will never take a joke so far that it will disappoint them. This is the cleansing of the spirit of Childish Gambino. He admits to his ‘stupid *** being real ***,’ and hints that, beneath his jovial exterior, there are demons lurking inside.
And the demons lurking are best on display on the second half of Camp. This half focuses not on Childish Gambino, but on Donald Glover; a man who left the projects and feels like he can never come back; a man that went from “omega to alpha male because of a dollar bill;” and a man that feels entirely uncomfortable underneath the glare of the spotlight. Glover bares all for us to see in a way that we haven’t seen since Kanye West’s early confessionals. It’s grim, almost unappealingly so, to dress himself down so readily.
It’s unfortunate that a record as frank and fresh as Camp wasn’t executed in a more professional manner. At the end of the day, Gambino still doesn’t have the chops to do himself justice- mostly because he truly is an amazingly interesting person. However, his flow is still inconsistent, and the second half of Camp is too personal for its own good. Gambino’s best trait is his childishness, his willingness to have the audacity to say “made the beat then murdered it/Casey Anthony,” without blinking an eye. There just isn’t enough of that on Camp to keep the entire record afloat.
The other side of the coin, though, is that in these 53 minutes, we see a man grow. Donald Glover carried a lot of baggage- ranging from bullying to confidence issues- that he has no issue confronting, even if it means all of his fans can hear about his problems too. On Camp we hear one of the most sincere rap albums of the year- if not longer- and see the evolution of a fledgling career. By the end of Camp, Glover is no longer “just a rapper,” he is a full grown man, and a legitimized MC.