Review: Childish Gambino Transcends And Innovates With “Awaken, My Love!”

2016 has been a terrible mess of a year. Between the grueling presidential campaign, the refugee crisis in Syria, and the seemingly never ending loss of pop culture icons, it’s safe to say 2016 has just been the worst, for most of us anyway. Donald Glover on the other hand, might be having the best year ever. The actor/writer/rapper/producer/creator has not let 2016 bring him down. In fact, he has taken advantage of the 365 calendar days by conquering all facets of pop culture.

It all started with his new FX series, Atlanta. The groundbreaking series is unlike anything else on TV, and is one of the most critically acclaimed series of the year. Glover produced, wrote, and starred in the series that should receive plenty of attention come award season. In late October, it was announced that Glover will play a young version of Lando Calrissan in the upcoming Han Solo standalone film. You would think a hit TV series and being casted in Star Wars film would be enough to cap off a perfect year, but Glover’s hip hop alter ego had to make an appearance to cap off 2016.

“Awaken, My Love!” is Donald Glover’s third studio album under the moniker, Childish Gambino. His latest album abandons bombastic beats, hard-hitting rhymes, and random pop culture references for funk and soul influenced rhythm and soul wrenching vocals. It’s a massive departure from Camp, his 2011 debut album.

Camp was proof that Glover wasn’t just a actor/comedian making a rap album. If Camp was his way to introduce himself to the masses, 2013’s Because The Internet was his way of distancing himself from other rappers. It was strange, uncomfortable, and really showcased his production and lyricism. It would go on to receive a Grammy nomination for Best Rap Album.

This leads us to “Awaken, My Love!”, which displays yet another side of Childish Gambino. It’s soulful, energetic, creative, and groundbreaking. With “Awaken, My Love!”, Childish Gambino lays all the cards on the table, hoping his fans will embrace yet another side of his persona. This is incredibly risky because fans of albums like Camp, Because the Internet, or his handful of mix tapes will surely be disappointed that there’s no rapping throughout the entirety of the record, but don’t let that steer you away from such a passionate and emotional concept album.

Childish Gambino is like a more humble version of Kanye West, he’s immensely talented and could change course with each release. “Awaken, My Love!” could be seen as Gambino’s version of 808’s & Heartbreaks, but it feels more like another opportunity to experiment with music than just a temporary segway to channel what he’s feeling at that particular time in his life.

But the difference between Gambino and West is that one is probably the greatest hip hop artist of his generation and the other could be considered the voice of his generation. Donald Glover is not just an actor. He’s not just a comedian. He’s not just a musician. He’s an artist who is so beyond gifted that he doesn’t have enough creative vehicles to display the multitude of his talent. There are those who try to be good at a few different things and there are those who excel at everything. Glover is the ladder.

“Awaken My Love!” is a further proof that Childish Gambino is one of the most exciting musicians working today. It also proves that Donald Glover’s next project could just be a collection of ambient noise, and it will still probably be one of the hottest releases of the year.

Rating: 9 out 10

Al Mannarino is the associate editor and photographer for Pop Break. He is also host of the News Over Brews Podcast, Loot Care Unboxed, Backstage Break, and the producer of Behind the Brews. He graduated Rowan University with a degree in Radio/TV/Film & History. When he isn’t writing he is either trying to build his own TARDIS or taking a nap. Follow him on Twitter: @almannarino. His photo website is: http://alfredmannarino.com