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Childish Gambino awakens

Donald Glover, aka Childish Gambino, is a multi-faceted entertainer, recently winning Best Actor in a Comedy Series for Atlanta at the Critics' Choice Awards in California.
Donald Glover, aka Childish Gambino, is a multi-faceted entertainer, recently winning Best Actor in a Comedy Series for Atlanta at the Critics' Choice Awards in California.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Actor Donald Glover turns from hip-hop to woozy soul tunes imbued with heart

SOUL/R&B/FUNK

AWAKEN, MY LOVE!

Childish Gambino

Glassnote

4/5 stars

Childish Gambino, aka Donald Glover, is an entertainer who is as multifaceted as the music he produces.

Television viewers know him from acclaimed comedies Community and Atlanta. Film fans will see him in upcoming Star Wars spin-off Han Solo and the new Spider-Man movie.

Hip-hop listeners know him as the rapper who made his music debut with mixtapes in 2008.

On his latest album, Awaken, My Love!, his musical journey takes a radical and interesting turn as the 33-year-old dips into a palette of 1970s funk, R&B and rock and lets his imagination run wild.

The overt hip-hop bounce from his previous releases is gone; it is replaced with woozy soul tunes drenched with copious amounts of psychedelia, not to mention imbued with a lot of heart.

This is most obvious in the overt references to a child, most notably in the tracks Me And Your Mama, Baby Boy and The Night Me And Your Mama Met, songs that seem to confirm rumours that he recently became a father.

The slow build-up of Me And Your Mama, the album opener, erupts in a joyous declaration of love: "Girl, you really got a hold on me/So this isn't just puppy love."

Motown ballad Baby Boy sees him not only lay out his elation at having a newborn, but also addresses his anxieties at possibly losing the kid should his partner leave him ("But oh, when mama cries from daddy's lies/Oh my, please don't take him away, mama").

He revisits the vagaries of falling in and out of love in sensual slow jam Redbone, reminding the listener to "stay woke" and beware of philandering partners.

Stepping away from affairs of the heart, Glover turns in California, a calypso tune not unlike Harry Nilsson's quirky 1971 hit Coconut. It is a perceptive track in which he ruminates about a girl who wants to make it big by moving to the titular state.

"When you make a movie now, know you making no difference/ It's a tickle on the mind 'fore me finish your sentence," he warns, using the now-defunct short-form video social media platform Vine as an example of how anybody can say they are a star now.

Awaken, My Love! ends on a positive note.

Album closer Stand Tall, a layered six-minute track that sees his singing morph from lush crooning to ardent falsettos, is a call to stay resilient and hopeful in the face of adversity. It is advice given to him by his parents, he sings, and probably the sort of life tips that are helping him score in both his acting and music careers, just like Elvis and Jamie Foxx did before him.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 28, 2016, with the headline 'Childish Gambino awakens'. Print Edition | Subscribe