On perusing the legnthy list of labels that dot our fair blog down its right flank, I was surprised to see that the name ‘Childish Gambino’ (aka Donald Glover or Community’s Troy or writer behind Tracey Jordan on 30 Rock) featured in fairly small type. Very rarely is there a disconnect between my personal taste and the subjects of this blog (in many instances you may well have been the victim of my direct thought-to-post translations) but in this particular instance, Gambino has been among the Top 3 of my personal ‘ones to watch’ list for the better part of six months now since he dropped the sensational five track ‘EP’ as a follow-up to warmly received 2010 mixtape ‘Culdesac’. That Gambino has been recording and releasing since 2008 and, even with his screenwriting and street cred, will only drop his first LP midway through November says a lot about the man’s dedication to getting it right.
As much as Childish Gambino might have begun as something of a joke (folklore has it that the name was derived from a Wu-Tang Clan name generator), it is quite clear from the outset of ‘Bonfire’ – as a chilling siren and warior calls fill the air – that Gambino means business. As the first single from ‘Camp’, ‘Bonfire’ is almost a call to attention for those who doubt Glover’s rap credentials. The atavistic cries give way to the super-synthetic drums that have come to characterise Gambino’s music and which serve up an arresting aural contradiction. In any other genre (and for that matter, probably with any other rapper rhyming over them) the plastic beat would sound underdone, cheap and nasty. But Gambino has a way of ensconcing even the simplest sounds in a thicket of sampling so that they end up sounding hood rather than drab. Where the rest of the game is taking things up, up and away with crossover appeals (dubstep and house creeping in almost anywhere you’d care to look), ‘Bonfire’ strips it back to four or five elements done exceedingly well.
While almost everything CG puts out goes straight to the top of my charts, I can understand many others’ gripes with him. The voice takes some getting used to as do the spectacular levels of self-congratulation and shout-outs to ex-girlfriends. But once resigned to this inevitable egotistical, tragic-romantic quality, what remains is some of the finest punnery in the game. ‘Act me like the Looney Tunes’ and ‘My dick is like an accent mark, it’s all about the over-e’ are two particular favourites off ‘Bonfire’ but there will, ineluctably, be more. What Gambino might lack in production pomp (although, I’d argue, the bare basics serve him well most of the time), he makes up for in some of the sharpest witticisms out. A Childish Gambino song is like the gift that keeps on giving. It’s easy to gloss over particular lines only to discover their bald-faced hilarity ten or twenty listens down the line. Amid all this, what ‘Bonfire’ is lacking is a really catchy chorus. Gambino’s ranting around 1’40” does the job, but barely. As a song, it appears more structurally aligned with a lengthy freestyle. As a reminder of the importance of November 15, it’s hard to ignore.
Childish Gambino – Bonfire