Review Summary: who do you love?3.15.20
For those not up to date so far, although this album was truly released on a later date than the album title would imply, this was indeed the date Donald Glover rolled out some promo and streamed the entirety of the album at 3am ET. Weirdly enough, the stream included an extremely detailed album cover of seemingly over a hundred doodled humans as well as more than two, non-timestamped song titles. In fact, every song had a title other than 'Time' and 'Algorhythm' with 21 Savage finding his place on the aptly titled 'Vibrate" and Donald Glover's own child crooning his way into 'The Violence' now recognized as '47.48'. So what's the point of it all, changing your song titles except for two within a week while posting poetic prose about your life and late father on lined sheets of paper to accompany it?
I'd like to claim I have it all figured out, but even after close examination I still seem to be missing some of the pieces. This isn't to criticize Donald Glover or the album itself, on the contrary, the alluring hints and clues that linger within the foggy breath that this album procures only adds to the mysterious atmosphere. It opens with a roboticized vocal take that's repeated across a vast video game-esque transitioning swirl of hums. This leads into the 'Algorhythm', a slightly more human Donald Glover yet a voice still deeply croaked with electronics now speaks of how "humans gotta survive, we know we gon' die" yet the now seemingly lighter-natured Donald Glover croons in the chorus, welcoming his listeners with "everybody move your body, now do it/here is something that's gonna make you move and groove". It's a little eerie, having a voice commanding you to dance to said song with a beat that's inherently bubbly and set supposedly at the perfect tempo for this mysterious algorhythm. Although I'm not sure I have it all
figured out, I do believe the tracklisting is extremely purposeful (yes he even did say it's meant to be experienced as one song), and this mechanical, electronically devised intro gives us the first clue as to how this album all fits together.
Okay so if this is the case, let's go down a quick fun thought path. Why would Donald Glover choose to have the beginning of his project sound so far from his human-self? Although I'm not trying to argue that there's a clear linear progression between "robot Donald" and "human Donald", on '47.48' it's pretty obvious why the outro to said song was placed where it is now. Featuring Legend Glover, Donald's son, the first question he is asked is "who do you love?". After stating his love for his father, mother and others Legend ends his answer with "and I love myself". Within seconds his innocence then flips the question back onto his own father, in this chilling display of childhood wonderment he naively asks, "do you love yourself?". Although contextually it'd seem obvious what Donald Glover would answer, up until this moment for the audience I'd argue the answer is still unclear. Donald Glover has been fighting with himself, his past, and the people he's lost throughout this entire project. A clear example is the mishmash of styles deployed, as seen with the traditional hip-hop endeavors which recall beats and flows even seen on projects as early as Because the Internet
with '12.38', the R&B pop flair of '19.10' musically reminiscing the beaches of Kauai
, and the neo-soul, vocally diverse '24.19' that alludes directly to more recent projects like "Awaken, My Love!"
. Coupling the musical journey is his lyrics, often alluding to things like wanting to say "thank you" to his late father for everything, not understanding how Childish Gambino is supposed to fit into the algorhythmic streaming services like Spotify, and wanting so desperately to find peace and love during a life and world that's constantly changing around him, seemingly for the worse. On top of all this past self-doubt is a new sound not seen within previous endeavors, most notably within tracks like '32.22', depicting a chaotic urban jungle much like some of Kanye's harsher cuts off Yeezus
So, does Donald Glover love himself? Although I think his answer at the end of '47.48' speaks for itself, it's almost easier to look to some of the light-hearted highlights of this messy, confusing album. '35.31' otherwise known as 'LITTLE FOOT BIG FOOT GET OUT THE WAY' is an obvious favorite, recalling an almost child-like melody and re-aligning 'Algorhythm's' message of teaching people how to dance to his music in a less forced, commanding tone. The reimagined 'Feels Like Summer' snugly fits within this presentation of sorts, bursting a much needed warm light onto the closing moments of the album. However, it'd be unfortunate to not mention the closing track '53.49', as it's truly one of the best (and possibly final?) tracks under the name of Childish Gambino. More importantly, it's the only thing that follows his clear answer of "yes" when asked if he loves himself. I'd argue despite all the amazing moments across 03.15.20
that this is the
moment Donald Glover accepts himself for who he is, and no matter what happens to the rap-persona of Childish Gambino, Donald Glover will still continue on.