Childish Gambino – “Camp” Review


childish gambino camp review

If you would have told me that Troy from NBC’s Community was putting out a rap record I would have said you were crazy, but I’ve been a fan of his music since before Community. I was first introduced to Donald Glover (aka Childish Gambino) after hearing the buzz around this movie called “Mystery Team”. It had been making the festival rounds and was the talk of the town at one point. I eventually got around to checking it out and loved it, I was instantly a fan of Donald Glover, the actor, little did I know that I would become more of a fan of Donald Glover, the rapper, than I would the actor. It was actually Childish Gambino that turned me on to Community in the first place. “Culdesac” and the “EP”, especially “Freaks & Geeks” are what initially introduced me to the world of iamdonald.com, Glover’s personal website. “Freaks & Geeks” sucked me in and “Culdesac” made me a believer, this kid is talented. It’s not all club pounding beats and mainstream raps, but it’s creative and genius. The rhymes this kid spits are things most rappers couldn’t even think of… “Vodka for my ladies, whiskey for a grown man; Hangin’ in the islands, lookin’ for Earl like Toejam; I made the beat retarded, so I’m callin’ it a slow jam; Butcher and I know it, man, kill beef, go ham”, and that’s just one line from the debut single “Bonfire”.  I mean, I’m listening to the “Camp” album right now as I’m typing this and just couldn’t believe a line he just spit.

Most rappers rap about what they are familiar with, unless your name is Vanilla Ice, and Childish Gambino is no different. He didn’t sell drugs, he was a writer for The Daily Show in 2005, then a writer on 30 Rock in 2008-2009, he’s had his own comedy special on Comedy Central and he lead the charge as the internet rallied to try to make him the first black spiderman. Basically he’s a smart, creative nerd and that’s what he raps about, and damn is it creative. A friend and I were discussing “Bonfire” at the bar the other night and he couldn’t decide whether he liked Donald Glover better as an actor or as a rapper, in my eyes he’s hands down a better rapper, but that just speaks volumes to his raps as he’s a great comedic actor as well. So if you’re looking for something different, something with a little more heart and soul, something more creative than “my rims have 20’s, by pockets got monies” then give Childish Gambino a chance. I would definitely recommend going all the way back to at least “Culdesac” and giving it a listen, then work your way up to “Camp”.

So now that the Childish Gambino love fest is out of the way, after the jump we run through the tracks one by one. We’ll give our opinions on each one individually and then quote our favorite line from the song. We don’t go too in depth into the lyrics themselves because we’re not here to try to figure out what he was thinking or what he means by certain things, so we mainly talk about the beats and the overall feel of the songs. You can stream the album yourself right now over at NPR.com, let us know what you think in the comments.

1. Outside – The beat in this one is very melodic in the beginning, but picks up right away. The lyrics hit hard and go well with the hard hitting symbols in the background. As things progress the song quiets down and relies on Gambino’s creativity. The song’s chorus relies on a choir that adds a bit more depth to the song, but just when you think it’s getting too slow, Gambino jumps back in with the hard hitting lyrics. Pretty good opening song, not my favorite on the CD, but definitely gives you a mixture of what to expect for the rest of the album.

Favorite Line: “They talkin hood shit and I didn’t know what that was about; cause hood shit and black shit is super different; so I’m talkin hood shit and coolin out like new edition; mom and dad wouldn’t listen”

2. Fire Fly – When the song first starts it almost reminds me of a Kanye West song, something about the beat, but once Gambino comes in you’re immediately reminded that it’s not Kanye West. This is one of the few songs that sounds like it could be a mainstream radio song, and when I say that I mean that the rest of the album has more of that underground, not heavily over-produced feel to it that this one does. I like it and I don’t. Since it has that over-produced feel it doesn’t really sound like the rest of the album, but it’s still a good song I think most people will dig it. You could seriously pass this off as a Kanye song though.

Favorite Line: “What you gonna do man you dont speak to the hood man; if i was given one chance I think could man; these black kids want something new I swear it; something they want to say, but couldn’t cause they embarrassed”

3. Bonfire – The first single off the album and it’s a hot one. Probably the hardest hitting track on the album. A lot of the other songs are slower tempo, but this one is angry. It reminds me a lot of “Freaks & Geeks”, it’s filled with creative rhymes and an intense beat. Probably my favorite track on the entire album, I love everything about it.

Favorite Line: “Shit I’m doing this year, insanity; made the beat and murdered it, Casey Anthony”

4. All The Shine – When I first heard this track I immediately thought of his Adele sample off a previous album. The beat isn’t as loud or as heavy as the previous track, but the lyrics are just as hard. Once the chorus kicks in you realize that Gambino doesn’t need hard club banging beats to make a song good. He doesn’t need the mainstream production, he just needs his mind and the time. There is more than one song that follows this sort of slower tempo, but they work.

Favorite Line: “I’m not tryin to come hard I’m tryin to come me; that’s why these older songs that I used to make I’d release free; what’s the point of rapping if you can’t be yourself huh; that’s why I come first, like my cell phone; I’m a role model, I am not these other guys; I rap about my dick and talk about what girls are fly; I know it’s dumb; that’s the reason that I’m doing it”

5. Letter Home – This “song” is more of a transition from the last song into “Hearbeat”. It’s only a little longer than a minute and uses the same big strings in the beat that we heard in “All The Shine”. We also get to hear a little bit more singing as opposed to rapping from Gambino. Since it’s more of an intermission we’re not going to post a favorite line.

6. Heartbeat – I could easily see this song being the 2nd single off of the album. “Heartbeat” has a deeper, electronic type beat with the subtle drum beat in the background. It almost sounds like a trance song, but with quick rhymes thrown in that intensify as the beat does. This is just hands down a great song.

Favorite Line: “right, wrong, ask’n em and she wanna play games with the super smash brothers; but none of em you; i miss the sex; when you kiss; whenever you’re through; 69 is the only dinner for two”

7. Backpackers – Another one of my favorite tracks on the album, “Backpackers” sounds like a 90’s hip-hop song. It’s simple yet effective. I don’t know what else to say about this track… next to “Bonfire” this is probably my favorite track on the album.

Favorite Line: “nigga got signed, it’s an anomaly; no co-sign, trigonometry”

8. L.E.S. – Slowing the beat down a bit on this one, unlike the last one, big strings with a couple drum beats in the background make for a simple yet effective beat. Not my favorite track on the album, but I like that he switches things up and everything doesn’t sound the same.

Favorite Line: “She’s got ironic tattoos on her back; that ain’t ironic bitch I love rugrats”

9. Hold You Down – This song sounds just like one of his older songs… maybe one on the EP, but I can’t put my finger on which one. It’s obviously not the same, but just reworked for release on an actual album. Again, another simple, low key beat, but it works. I think I like this version better than whatever song I’m thinking of from an old album (someone help me out here). Lyrically this is probably one of my favorite songs on the album.

Favorite: “Just the way that we see each other; I won’t stop until they say James Franco is the white Donald Glover; yeah these niggas wanted cookie, but instead I gave em lockness; sick boy for life, my swaggers in the hospice”

10. Kids (Keep Up) – And let’s slow things way down this time. The beat starts off almost as if it’s coming out of a music box, but eventually fills in with a nice piano for the opening and the chorus with the drum beats coming in behind the verses. This one reminds me of an old LL Cool J jam. It’s not a bad song, but I prefer others on the album. I can see this one not getting a ton of spins through my headphones.

Favorite Line: “you made a mistake, these dudes man you bathing in apes; finding you is like finding asians I hate; but they say i got a fetish, nah, im skippin all of it; black and white girls always come with a set of politics”

11. You See Me – And we’re back to the heavy hitters. Extremely simple beat on this track, but it’s instantly overflowing with intensity. If “Bonfire” were played in slow motion this is the song you would get. He really does like asian girls doesn’t he? I mean, who doesn’t. Again, not something you’re going to hear in a club, not a dance song, but definitely a hard hitting entry into the hip-hop world.

Favorite Line: “send me naked pics, imma tumbl that; I’m the shit, been the shit, fuck a humble brag; yeah we pushin that, and a pussy cat; i got swag out my ass so i’m using that”

12. Sunrise – Upbeat and slightly synthesized, this beat resembles the feel of “Heartbeat” earlier in the album, but slightly toned back. The lyrics, however, are not toned back at all. We get the confidence of the previous track with a mash up of the beat styles from a number of previous tracks. I enjoy “Heartbeat” more, but this is still a solid song.

Favorite Line: “new shit, you didn’t know; black rock like a fucking LOST episode”

13. That Power – Signing off to the haters, “That Power” is one of the best tracks on the album. It starts off with just a drum beat and explodes into a melodic combination of everything we’ve heard on the album previously. Everything culminates in a perfect storm of creativity in this song. The intensity in the lyrics, the choir incorporated into the beat and the heartfelt recollection of the bus ride home from camp all come together to create a perfect ending to an amazing album.

Favorite Line: “now that’s the line of the century; niggas missed it too busy they lyin about penetentaries, man”

Bottom line, this is a great album. Some of the tracks may not hit as hard as others and some people may not like the fact that he switches things up from hard hitting songs to some slower ones, but it’s an extremely well rounded album and as a fan I’m happy. He’s not trying to be Lil Wayne, he’s not trying to be Drake, he’s just trying to be himself and he’s definitely succeeded. I hope this album gives him the credit he deserves and hopefully more people will recognize his skills and his uniqueness. This dude deserves all the success and I wish him nothing but the best.