Review Summary: Childish Gambino puts out a solid mixtape that falls short of his magnum opus that was "Camp".
Donald Glover is one of the most entertaining characters in contemporary Hip Hop; he brings a clever flow with sarcastic wordplay. The interesting component to his work happens to be his sampling abilities as he crafts some of the most elegant instrumentals you could ever hear. The prime of his work so far was easily demonstrated on his 2011 release "Camp" where he powers in his incredible singing talents with his catchy rap lines. Glover's humor and interesting references were certainly a breath of fresh air and there were some strong Odd Future influences in tracks like "Bonfire" (that's still bumping in the car).
Let's fast forward to 2012; Gambino continues to remain an underground talent despite some nice comedy work that he's put together inside and outside of musical pursuits. Not only does this guy have an incredible vocal talent, but he merges this style very effectively with his rapping capabilities. Unfortunately, this mixtape doesn't live up to the power and strength of Camp, but then again, it is far superior to some of his other past projects. I'm not going to attack and scrutinize every aspect of this album because we all know that most artists aren't going to bring their best material to a mixtape. Royalty sometimes becomes repetitive as the drum samples seem to be more or less the same for all eighteen tracks of the project. Gambino still shines lyrically though as one of rap music's most talented song writers (if he hasn't stopped making his odd references by now, don't expect it to stop anytime soon). This mixtape differs from his previous projects in that it introduces some new faces. Artist such as Bun B, Danny Brown and even the RZA make an appearance. RZA's lyrical performance on the track "American Royalty" additionally happens to be one of the strongest highlights of the album.
This Oxycontin carbon monox' and toxic concoction
Collapse your brain cells, they swell from lack of oxygen
Leave the opposition stuck, without a pot to piss in
Hockin', spitting up blood, shark by sharp precision
Dart incision, darkness imparts your vision
Sparks infliction, (Poof) I'm a mad magician (American Royalty)
Let's dive into Gambino too though because even though there are some high profile features on this tape, this isn't exactly going to prevent Mr. Glover from showcasing his English expressions. My personal favorite track on this album and perhaps the greatest sign of Gambino's progression as an artist happens to be the track "Black Faces". This track seems to carry the most dynamic drive of all the other songs and this might be because of Gambino's haunting lyricism towards the closing of this track.
Magazines got black faces when somebody dies
I mean look at Donna Summers, she was tryin' to survive
People wrestle over petty cash
When we should be really cryin' over that one percent (Black Faces)
My only real frustration in this mixtape is that it lacked the drive and energy of Camp. Often times we'll happen upon an artist we like and we fall victim to enjoying their best work. Progression is a word that nobody ever wants to hear, but it's exactly what gets us to keep coming back to our favorite artists. Royalty seems to be soaked in too many simple electronic samples compared to the compelling repeated listens of Camp, but as I've said before it's unrealistic to compare a mixtape in Hip Hop to an actual album much as you wouldn't base the sound of a small EP on how the final product will actually sound. The EP might indicate the direction or style that an artist might be pursuing, but it's more or less a warm up for the majority of artists. For Gambino, I see Royalty as an excellent way for him to keep his rapping abilities sharp and prepare us for a new sound in the future.
You have to respect an artist such as Mr. Glover though for bringing some new elements to the repertoire of Hip Hop's most formidable sounds. This is clearly why I must separate the concepts of progression, regression, influence and plagiarism. Progression is when the artist or group can continue to manipulate their sound on each album why continuing to add new tools to the sound box and experiment (this is what normally contributes to the eventual classic album(s) the artist becomes known for). Regression is a road that no human with any level of creativity ever wants to experience; you literally fade out of relevance and your later work almost becomes worse with each passing release. Influence of course helps an artist to add tools from already existing styles to their own in order to create their own unique sound. Influence of course is not to be confused with plagiarism. No disrespect to the original artist can ever be given greater to somebody that takes a sound and emulates it to the very last note (see all Post Grunge/Nu-Metal bands). There's nothing wrong with having influences. Richie Kotzen and Chris Cornell of Soundgarden are often compared in their vocal sounds, but their careers obviously were conceived around the same time during the early 1990's. One artist might have been influenced by the other, but there was no emulation factor to make money. The same concept applies here. Childish Gambino isn't emulating the style of revolutionary artists such as Kanye West or MF Doom; he might be taking some of their influences and adding those select components to his own unique style. Royalty is a mixtape that seems to face the issue of regression, but then again he's an artist that originally brought forth some progression into the Hip Hop genre (those guys often bounce back and Gambino has all the tools to simply label his future releases as an "epic comeback".) For Gambino, he's capable of much more and both you and I shouldn't be worried with someone of his immeasurable talents. For now though, let's enjoy Royalty for it's still eons ahead of popular music.