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Nobody else alive can do what Childish Gambino is doing. It’s not a matter of outstanding talent in any one area: he’s far outranked at rapping by Earl, Danny and Vince, can’t dominate a singing feature like Anderson .Paak, hasn’t yet pulled together a concept album the likes of which make big waves in the scene nowadays. But the fact remains: that thing he does, that he did demonstrably, mesmerisingly, ridiculously at Coachella last weekend, is one of a kind.

I think his closest compatriot was actually Mac Miller – another rapper who, initially considered kinda embarrassing to listen to, pulled himself up through a scattershot spread of talent in basically every area. Up into something that looked from the ground like a genuine higher calling. Gambino’s mention of Mac’s name in the show’s quiet pause before an emotional “Riot” gives me hope that he thought the same. Or maybe he was just reading the room, feeling out that the crowd would be receptive to some tributes to fallen brothers – it’s hard to begrudge him that.

Donald Glover the man is brilliant because it seems like he can do everything, but Childish Gambino the artist is incredible because at any moment he might do anything. For example, he can debut a new song at Coachella with no words in English, a primitive tribal ritual which whips the crowd and striking team of backup dancers into a circle pit that feels seconds away from either transcending music entirely or descending into some depraved Suspiria bacchanal. The next minute, he’s crooning Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” as a lead-in to “Terrified”. He can livestream a Coachella set that might be one of the festival’s defining performances, and in the same day drop a visual album with Rihanna where “This is America” gets played on factory machines and “Saturday” unites a small island of oppressed workers together. (Guava Island itself, despite being – kind of first year art-student silly, unites Hiro Murai’s mastery of frame with acoustic-tinged Gambino renditions in a very winning formula). How many other rappers can institute a hardline policy that the last minute of every song has to be a knockout? Whether that’s “WORLDSTAR”‘s butter-smooth saxophone coda; Ludwig Goransson shaking up the cheesy “The Worst Guys” by slaying a guitar solo (which he emerged like Jesus to rip into at Coachella); or my personal favourite “Shadows” elevating itself to some psychedelic dream plane, wrapped around a devastating echo of “and I hope you understand”, like Tame Impala remixed the last minute of the song. On an album some would consider pretentious and overwrought at the worst, he can write a whole screenplay which re-contextualises the story and spit a line like “man is a star bound to a body inside of me / twenty million degrees, burn a man to his knees” that justifies the whole fucking thing.

This is why, when Donald proclaims “this is not a concert, this is church” to the tame crowd at the beginning of the set, it doesn’t feel preachy or hyperbolic. A multi-hyphenate like Glover can’t not feel like the stage is home. And on this stage on this night, with new tracks “Atavista” (a moving a cappella hymnal with DNA from “Urn”), “Algorythm” (a tribal-funk banger) and “Human Sacrifice” (which takes the gospel-rap fusion of “Ultralight Beam” and that last Chance album to new euphoric highs), that home undeniably takes on a sheen of the spiritual. If Awaken My Love!, wonderful album that it was, felt at times like Glover doing his best impersonation of Funkadelic, the new songs don’t have that problem. In finding the middle ground between Awaken and Because the Internet, Gambino’s invented language isn’t the only thing that feels brand new: the debuted untitled song sounds like Goransson brought back snippets from his time on Black Panther and fused them to Gambino’s unique performative energy. It isn’t a Coachella banger for the early-20s to take caps to, it’s a ritual which tethers performer to audience in a brand new way – or so you can easily believe in the heat of the moment through the watching eyes of the Steadicam.

So yeah, when it all comes down to it, this is still just music. I’ll argue any day that music is the closest thing to proof of the spiritual for people who don’t believe, but it’s still certain notes placed in a certain order; I fully expect that when/if these songs appear studio-recorded, some element of magic will be missing from them, some feeling of communion that seeing Childish Gambino take himself to church live provided. That’s a shame, but it’s nothing new: “Me and Your Mama” live takes on new life that its studio counterpart just can’t match, but it’s a great song either way. By the same token, the album when it drops will have a permanent place on my phone, but Childish Gambino’s Coachella performance is the kind I can imagine myself watching a year or two or ten from now, caught up in the moment again just like the first time, somewhere close to euphoria. And that’s all I can really ask from the man.

 

Nothing can live forever, you know we gon try
Life isn’t really worth it, the algorythm is perfect





Rowan5215
04.16.19
this is certainly a thing

Lord(e)Po)))ts
04.16.19
Childish Gambino @ Coachella is one hell of a hard sell combo for me personally, but I ended up reading this whole thing anyway which means you did a pretty damn good job.

Good words

Rowan5215
04.16.19
whoa an actual comment? on my blog post? think you're in the wrong place pal

Rowan5215
04.16.19
for real I'm sure you would absolutely despise every second of this so I appreciate the time

fwiw the first track embedded has a pretty tight tribal type beat so... maybe

Conmaniac
04.16.19
Childish Gambino is seriously one of the best multi-talents of our generation but I've been saying this for years
Nice write-up Row

BlushfulHippocrene
04.16.19
Oh man, I have no excuse not to listen now. I love this piece so much.

PistolPete
04.16.19
Great write-up although I do probably like him less than most music fans, I still enjoy his hits.

BlushfulHippocrene
04.16.19
Just listened to Algorhythm... Christ.

LOVEANDACCEPTANCE
04.16.19
"Nobody else alive can do what Childish Gambino is doing."

neg

Conmaniac
04.16.19
ok because the internet is better than any rap concept album ive heard but that's the only thing i disagree with

Chambered79
04.16.19
Been digging feels like summer lately

theNateman
04.16.19
I need these songs nao.

Rowan5215
04.16.19
Con I wasn't necessarily talking BTI's quality (you know I adore that album lol) so much as how it's arguably not as, ugh, "important" as something like TPAB or whatever, those massive concept albums that you have to do just to get pitchfork to like your rap nowadays. That's not a value judgement tho, cos I actually much prefer how BTI instead has time for all the weird, specific, hyper personal stuff rather than trying to change society or w/e

Rowan5215
04.16.19
Thanks for the kind words anyway folks. Human Sacrifice is gonna be massive if he ever drops it, it has one of his best choruses

klap
04.17.19
can confirm set was good in-person too

klap
04.17.19
not a huge fan by any means but the headlining production values tend to bring out the best in ppl

Rowan5215
04.17.19
hella jealous klap, damn. thanks for the comments

Conmaniac
04.18.19
Row, completely agree and we are both in the same boat where it's hard to judge it as the ""best"" rap concept album with shit like TPAB existing but man do I have a personal infatuation with it. And although simply writing a 70-page screenplay to accompany the album doesn's automatically make it "amazing" (see Logic's Supermarket), when I first read it in full to accompany the album every song matched so well with the written counterpart's mood that it's automatically a "classic" in my book (notice all the dumbass quotation marks ugh haha)

Rowan5215
04.18.19
the screenplay itself is fantastic and so much more than just the few song lyrics + some characters you expect when you start to read it. it's like a longform episode of Atlanta and I really wish he'd filmed it

Uzumaki
04.18.19
Fantastic write up and read. Makes me even more excited for whenever he decides to drop his next album.

Rowan5215
04.19.19
thank you!

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