Review Summary: *crickets*
Like it or not, Pitchfork are the preeminent tastemakers of our time. Since expanding their coverage to music videos, interviews, track reviews, and rigorous daily updates they’ve become the most influential music publication since Rolling Stone in their 70s heyday. A positive writeup launches careers, a negative one ends them. So when they reviewed Childish Gambino’s Camp
, it looked like the end of the world for Donald Glover’s rap alter ego. They didn’t just give it a negative review, they eviscerated
it, hitting it with the lowest score of the year and calling it “preposterously self-obsessed but not the least bit self aware”. But instead of going quietly into that good night, Pitchfork had a minor coup on its hands. The average score given to Camp
was a 69, not a phenomenal showing but Pitchfork’s 1.6 is by far the most negative score bestowed upon it. Many critics had nothing but gushing praise for it. Alternative Press called it “a stone-cold classic” while XXL stated the album contains “top tier lyricism”. Then, on the 2011 Pitchfork Readers Poll, Camp
was voted the most underrated album of the year. So the question is, did Pitchfork get it wrong? Did they give a knee jerk tongue lashing to an artist who didn’t deserve it?
From the sound of it, Donald Glover’s Tetsuo-sized ego is in serious need of a few more bad reviews. Camp
is an album so wrapped up in it's creators disgustingly out of control ego that it leaves me wondering how in the hell something this awful could come from somebody so talented.
Drake claimed in this day and age it’s “become recreation to pull all your skeletons out the closet like Halloween decorations” but for Childish Gambino it’s a full time job. He spews so many noxious details about himself and his life it becomes the musical equivalent of watching someone get wasted and spill their guts at a party. On the clear “Dark Fantasy” knock-off “Outside”, the first of many, many, many Kanye rips on Camp
, Donald aggressively shares so many details about himself it resembles a desperate, like-pandering Facebook status. The suffering is piled on to such a degree with no respite that it begins to alienate. As the album goes on, it becomes clear that Donald is tailoring his image in order to draw the most pity possible out of his audience. When Donald claims the kids at his High School school "make fun of my clothes and wanna touch my hair" or that he's "making up for the fucks I missed in high school" but neglects to mention he attended the Dekalb School of the Arts and was allowed to major in Dramatic Writing, both huge privileges, it feels like we're only being fed the parts of his life that sucked. Music focused on depression is some of the most compelling music ever made but this is a 30 year old man presenting us with an album that exists so he can rub it in the faces of people who were cruel to him over a decade ago. By this point in his life he should be able to look back on his experiences with a degree of perspective but Camp
regards Donald's time in high school as a 4-year crucifixion.
Theirs far too little to contrast it against, the toast-to-success of "Firefly" is buried under an avalanche of angst, Donald was miserable then, he's miserable now. Furthermore, he never shows a shred of gratitude to anyone who got him this far. The closest he comes is mentioning his mom was "Workin' two jobs so I could get into that white school", this is stated without a shred of gratitude and used as a segway so he can bellyache about his time there.
This continues throughout the entire album as Donald rages against various women (“Heartbeat”, “LES”), rages against those that would dare to label him (“Backpackers”), and rages against himself (Just about every track here).
Donald Glover is a far more successful comedian/actor/rapper than most with even one of those aspirations with ever come close to being and yet all he does on this album is complain. I realize that success doesn’t make for a perfect life but the closest Donald comes to enjoying his success is when he’s gloating. He whines so much you imagine yourself faking an emergency phone call for an excuse to escape his temper tantrum. The density and utter indefensibility of his punch lines make them not even worth quoting at length. Worst offender: "I got a bunch of jackanapes at the back of me/That’ll lacerate anyone in the back of a matinee/And laugh while they masturbate all over your beaten body".
So what works here? The beats are generally well produced and while everything that leaves his jaw is asinine I wont deny that Childish can indeed flow, nailing a tricky double time at the end of “You See Me”. The hooks on “Heartbeat” and “Sunrise” are addictive even if the songs themselves aren’t worth the time.
But all the redeeming value I can scrape together just washes away in the face of “The Power”. After so much tortuous soul baring Donald decides to close his album – “Last Call” style – with a 4-minute monologue about how he spent summer camp with a girl when he was 13 and developed a crush on her. On the bus ride home, Donald realized he would likely never see this girl again, he knows she likes him but doesn’t know to what extent and is scared to reveal his true feelings. After a while on the bus, he finally spills his guts to her in a lengthy speech that involved the word destiny. When it was over, she said “Ok” and Donald fell asleep. When he woke up, she was gone and one of the girls that were cruel to him revealed that Donald’s crush had told her everything by snidely saying “Destiny” to him. “The truth is, I got on that bus a boy”, Donald concludes, “And I never got off that bus. I still haven’t.”
Holy sh*t Donald. You embarrassed yourself to a girl when you were 13. This is so common place my brain cannot even begin to comprehend how all consuming and hopelessly self aware you must think
you are to believe this is some staggering revelation designed to leave your audience floored at the depths of your honesty. Guess what, I called the teacher “Mom” once, did it change my perceptions of gender roles and how dependant I’d become on my parents and how I view women as mere tools to serve my own needs!? No. It was just a crappy day. If you’ve ever seen someone give a speech so embarrassing that you found yourself sinking deep into your chair, desperately hoping a tear in the universe swallows you whole, you know exactly how this "grand finale" sounds.
He’s right about one thing though; he is still on that bus. Donald attended Donald Glover Summer Camp. Where the campers and the counselors are all Donald. Where the campers canoe in Lake Donald, paint pictures of Donald, write embarrassing poetry about Donald, send letters to their parents who are also Donald, sing songs about Donald written by Donald, look up at the constellations which all look like Donald, tell spooky ghost stories about Donald, and play basketDonald and baseDonald. And now, he’s sitting on the bus (That was driven by Donald) in the church parking lot, while his parents are waiting in the car.
Get off the bus, Donald.
Get off. The bus.