Childish Gambino has been blessing us lately with a number of projects. Recently, we’ve all been discussing his new series, Atlanta, which accurately depicts Southern life, as well as, the constant grind on road to stardom. However, he didn’t leave us hanging on the music front and followed his series up with new music, his single, “Me and Your Mama”. Keeping with the momentum, he released the second single, “Redbone”, causing anticipation for his latest release, Awaken, My Love! The last time he released music was in 2014 with STN MTN / Kauai, which branched together his rapping and surprisingly good vocal skills. However, he couldn’t have come at a better time and with music that encompasses the funk and soul of the 1970s. Although the album was not what I would have anticipated, it is the first album in a long time that I can say I enjoyed from the first listen. After a few listens, Awaken, My Love! to bridge together an older generation of music with new school problems to create a cohesive album dedicated to teaching his son the ways of the world.
Starting the album is its single, “Me and Your Mama”, which encompasses three songs in one as it transitions over time. It starts off as a what I would deem a trap beat as Gambino repeatedly sings, “I’m in love when we are smokin’ that la-la-la-la-la.” The slow tempo is fitting as Gambino illustrates slow session between him and his girlfriend. At around the two-minute mark, the tempo picks up and transitions into rock n roll. Similar to the genre, he screeches and wails in a way that is reminiscent of the late Prince. The music and his vocals seem to mirror his frustration at trying to assure his girl that he loves her. He professes to the influence she has over him, stating “really got a hold on me” and asks that she let him in. At the four-minute mark, the song enters its third phase, becoming a smooth, funky beat. While most of the song includes singing, this portion is left alone as the instrumental ends the song. The song seems to employ that whatever is the relationship between him and his girlfriend is complicating. They seem to go through the highs and lows of commitment through the song’s continuous change. Following this is “Have Some Love”, which sounds hippy like as he encourages love and unity among black men. He acknowledges that black men have to power to be a force, especially in a time where they are the targets of police brutality. The song is mid-tempo, but switches to a funkadelic groove session during the song’s bridge. He posits that in a world that is so much bigger than them, love and unity are the one chance they have at making progress. He could possibly be referring to brothers in the universal sense, a term that would unite all races. However, based on Gambino’s critical consciousness, I believe the song is more focus on conquering the issues between black brothers.
“Boogieman” is his attempt at taking a scary figure from childhood and aligning him with the police in a way that his child will understand. However, he also seems to tackle the duality with the term as black men are seen as dangers in the eyes of cops. He sings, “With the gun in your hand / I’m the boogieman / I’m gonna come and get you.” Black men are seen as police officer’s worst nightmare, causing them to become very trigger happy. Police operate in this same way for the black man as they “point a gun at my rising sun.” This phrase is a play on words as it references the growth and development of his son, who he welcomed earlier this year. The song encompasses all the fears that Gambino has on raising a black son in white America. Though the song is well crafted, there is some ambiguity with regards to the chorus as he states, “Boogieman, you’ve got to help us, can you?” This phrase could possibly signal the white audience that calls on the police force to reduce their own fears about black people. There have been plenty of police brutality cases today where black men encountered the police on behalf of someone’s suspicions and fear. To end the song, Childish questions how the progression of the world if both races are held captive by their fear of each other. The production is funky and up tempo, while there are periods where the production become slow and dreamy, especially in the chorus. The song fades out in an instrumental that is hard to put in words, but is groovy and plays into the 70s theme. Track 4, “Zombies” discusses the lack of humanity and detachment that persists in the world. He states that “They can smell your money / And they want your soul / Here they come behind you / Try to stay alive.” Whether he is speaking about the industry or ordinary people, he seems to construct them as leeches that will use you for their benefit. The hook acts as the voice of the zombies that are “eating you for profit.” He acknowledges the savagery within the world and how one has to be careful how who they hang out with. To match the song’s message, he employs a dark beat with haunting vocals in the background that sound creepy and not human. He ends the song asking “Do you feel alive, yeah?”, calling into question the listener’s ability to be aware of their own circle.
“Riot” is very up tempo and seems to be a mixture of rock and disco. It’s one of my favorite songs on the album and seems to allude to a feeling deep within the soul that has to get out somehow. This feeling seems to come from the senseless murders of black men and lack of justice that is attributed to them. It becomes clear through lines that mention the lack of leadership today and his acknowledgment that they, the police, try to kill them. This feeling, which isn’t given a name, matches the song’s production which is very chaotic, loud, and fast. However, despite the circumstances, he encourages people to dance and continue living through the lyrics “get down” and “fly high”. Instead of resorting to looting, living one’s life can be another form of rioting without all the destruction.
“Redbone” reminds the listener that within his many lessons on life, there is still love. Redbone are used to describe women of lighter complexion and is the term he is using to describe his girl. Although a declaration of love, the song also seems to hint at possible problems in the relationship, particularly on his part. In the chorus, he sings, “But stay woke / Niggas creepin’ / They gon’ find you / Gon’ catch you sleepin’.” He reinforces messages of consciousness, but this time in regards to his relationship. It seems that he has to remind himself that there are those who what he has. In order to protect his relationship, he must be committed and ward off possible distractions that could lead to downfall. The mixture of funk and R&B mixture and its slow tempo reminds me of Bootsy Collins’ “Rather Be With You.”
“California” speaks to the failed promise, especially when it comes to California. He narrates a story of a woman who goes to Cali, possibly Hollywood, in search of fame. She wants to make her dreams as an actress come true but pays no mind to the consequences. He states “She must’ve f*cking lost her mind”, baffled her rash decision. Unfortunately, her dreams don’t pan out and she is stuck in a sticky situation. She was pulled into the allure of the dream that people sell her and does not have the good fortune of white privilege to fall back on. He makes this clear in the line, “but they don’t pay for no privilege.” Although the song is sad, the song is very upbeat and happy with a hint of tropical influence. Despite its positive vibes, it’s a testament to the dream one can sell you, which is veiled in promise but does not always deliver. It’s also the perfect sound to describe California with all its promotion of happiness, sunshine, and contentment. Track 8, “Terrified”, speaks to the fear that is implicit within the black community, specifically black men. He seems to act as this ominous presence throughout the song that warns black men to hide and be fearful of their life. There are threats that are always around the corner and to play upon this fear, Gambino utilizes the vocals of JD McCrary. Singing in what sounds like a mercy, she says, “No no no no no please”, acting as an example of what could happen if caught. However, in the next lines over she seems to switch roles and acts as the presence, stating, “Oh you can’t run from me / You can’t hide from me.” The song is slow in tempo and the production is very creepy, playing into the watching and waiting that happens in the song.
“Baby Boy” is Gambino’s dedication to his son, as well as, his fear that his girlfriend will take him away. He hints at the end of their relationship with the lyrics “when mama cries from daddy’s lies” and “This love for me is fading.” Although their relationship isn’t working out, he still wants to be a presence in his son’s life. However, he feels that this could be threatened by her, even though she reassures him she’ll do no such thing. He ends the song with a message: “There was a time before you / And there will be a time after you / Though these bodies are not our own / Walk tall, little one, walk tall / Let me hold you, let me hold you.” Although he does not say it, the advice seems to act as a parting message, almost like a just in case. He informs his son that there were harsh times before him and there will be more in the future, but he must find the strength and stand firm. This song seems to depart from the 70s theme and seems more like a blue song with its somber tone and his declaration of fear and doubt.
“The Night Me and Your Mama Met” counters the image of hurt and distance he establishes in the previous song. The song has no words and is simply an instrumental that starts off sensual and becomes chaotic as electronic guitar riffs come in towards the end. By having no words, he seems to establish that it was love at first sight. The guitar riffs are representative of the “fireworks” and chemistry on that night. The lack of lyrics seems to emphasize a speechlessness or a representation of feelings. “Stand Tall” is the final track on the album and one again connects back to “Baby Boy” as Gambino passes advice that his parents gave him down to his son. He encourages his son to accomplish his dreams and stand tall and smile when times are hard. The production on this song is like a mash up of all the sounds he’s used on the album. It transitions from tempo to tempo and beat to beat at sporadic times. I believe it’s the true embodiment of all his influences and the 70s era and is my favorite track on the album.
Awaken, My Love! is Childish Gambino telling his son the story of how he came to be, as well as, the evils of the world. The one message that continuously plays throughout the album is the need to be conscious of everything in one’s life. It is even filtered through the album’s artwork, which shows a head that looks to be popping up out of the ground. The head seems to be gasping and you can see the whites of its eyes, almost as if it is coming up for fresh air. It gives off the message that one cannot be blind anymore or hide, but that they must be an active observer of the world, especially for black men. Although Childish speaks directly to his son, I think he could be talking to black youth overall. I think he gives messages that any black boy can adhere to and the word “son” could symbolize the relationship between mentor and mentee. What also makes this album is amazing is the instrumentation. He utilizes guitars, drums, organs, synthesizers, and even instruments I’ve never heard of before like a Wurlitzer and glockenspiel. Through these instruments, he really channels the 70s era well and authentically.
Overall, I would give this album a 9 out of 10. From the production to the message, this album is perfection from beginning to end and I’d definitely recommend it. Awaken, My Love! can be found on Itunes, Spotify, and other streaming services.