Review Summary: Glover should have stuck with acting.
Too bad Community
is on hiatus; it means we’ll have to hear more of Donald Glover’s attempts at hip-hop. Although, having more time to spend on his hip-hop could be beneficial, as he could REALLY use the practice. Camp
is his major label debut, and was hyped to extremes when released. NPR ran a stream and compared him to Kanye and Drake, among others. It’s received extensive radio play, and peaked at number eleven on the Billboard chart. On the other hand, Pitchfork reviewed it at 1.6. So, who do you believe? Is Pitchfork just full of haters?
Unfortunately for Childish Gambino, Pitchfork got something right (ish) this time. Camp
, much like Watch The Throne
, is a record plagued by indecisiveness. However, the comparisons stop there. Watch
featured rappers who had a sense of flow, and enough good tracks that it was forgivable. Camp
’s indecisiveness comes in the form of his multiple personae. He is a poor black kid going to white schools; a really nice, innocent guy; the toughest guy around; and only a rapper. That’s right, ONLY a rapper. Forget about the time spent doing stand-up or acting, you’re ONLY a rapper, Glover. Possibly the most prevalent aspect of his indecisiveness is that he switches personae everywhere
. He changes it up far too frequently, and sometimes even mid-song. Whenever one of his personae is beginning to become believable in the slightest, he ruins it by pretending to be someone else.
Gambino does manage to sound somewhat different when he acts different, although this is inconsistent as well. His voice is very bright when he’s happy, and for much of his angry work, he still has this bright tone. However, the most infuriating thing about this is that he occasionally shows that he can sound legitimately angry (see parts of Backpackers). If he was incapable of losing the bright tone, this would be forgivable; however, it just comes off as lazy acting. His rapped hooks are also lazy. While having gospel hooks in every track would be overkill, they’d be more original than “It’s a bonfire, turn the lights out/ I’m burnin’ everything you mutha***as talk about.”
Gambino’s lyricism is the weakest part of the record, and keeping nicely with the theme of Camp
, inconsistent. It seems like his only ambition is to pack as many “nerdy” pop culture references into every song as possible. Glover’s background as a comedian is quite dominant, and it really shows; his so-called “serious songs” like All The Shine are diluted by the asinine punchlines thrown in. The reference density would be forgivable, nay, even something to look forward to were his references actually well-executed. However, when he spits ““You're my favorite rapper now” Yeah, dude, I better be/ Or you can ***in’ kiss my ass, Human Centipede” it’s evident that his inane goal of stuffing every song to the brim only detracts from the quality. Most of his references are poorly tacked onto the end of a line in this fashion; “Made the beat then murdered it, Casey Anthony” and “Realest mother***er in the game like Tron, nigga” are two prime offenders. Besides his poor references, fatuous puns like “She's an overachiever/ All she do is suck seed” show that Glover’s comedy is better off as far away from Gambino’s rap as possible.
However, not everything about Camp
is bad. As mentioned before, the gospel hooks are fantastic. Much of the album is self-produced, and Gambino not only pulls it off, but exceeds all expectations (discrepancies like Heartbeat and You See Me aside). He collaborated with Community
composer Ludwig Goransson, and the two make excellent work of it. Gambino could easily make beats for other rappers and it’d sound great.
The catchy Gospel hooks and the above average production can’t begin to make up for Camp
’s multitudinous flaws, however. Since he shows no signs of quitting rap, hopefully the shift of focus from Community
results in better work from him in the future.