Tuesday, November 15, 2011

ALBUM REVIEW: Childish Gambino - Camp

Though he's best known for his work in humor, graduating from the sketch group Derrick Comedy to writing gigs on The Daily Show and 30 Rock before landing the role of dim-bulb Troy Barnes on NBC's Community, Donald Glover has also been fruitfully pursuing a music career for years now, releasing rap albums under the name Childish Gambino, an alias he got from a Wu-Tang Clan name generator. Now he's back with his fourth album, Camp, which, like its predecessors, is smart and ambitious, but bears a relentlessly emo tone that wears thin after a while.

Which isn't to say that Glover's complaints, or the feelings behind them, are without merit. He spends much of the album railing against the rigidity of identity forced upon young black men in America, the idea that if you're not hard or hood, you're not anything at all, and the way that attitude percolates through rap and relationships. It's something that's needed saying for a long time (whatever happened to hip-hop's big tent?), and he deserves props for daring, but it would come across a lot better with a bit more levity and a little less persecution complex.

But if the album gets a little leaden after a while, there's no denying the skill Glover brings to the proceedings. The production work is slick and soulful, and lyrically, he has a writer's eye for complex metaphors and a comedian's voice for the vicious put-downs; but by the time Camp winds to a close with an elegant little teenage love story, you're left wishing he had stepped back and allowed the album to open up and breathe a little more. It's best in small doses, but at least boasts a maturity that bodes well for future releases.

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