“Dude I’m so f**ked up right now,” ?uestlove, the drummer for the Roots, wrote on his Instagram early in the morning of this record’s release:
“I can’t even form the proper hyperbolic sentence to explain to D’Angelo why I woke him up at 4am to listen to this… I thought I was getting some fresh millennial 2016 hip hop shit and I got sucker punched… I haven’t written or been stunned by an album I wasn’t expecting since that time I got an advance of Back To Black [Amy Winehouse].” – ?uestlove
Harking back to 70’s Parliament-Funkadelic, Sly and the Family Stone, and Outkast’s Aquemini, Donald Glover, a.k.a. Childish Gambino, a.k.a. the co-writer of “Werewolf Barmitzvah,” is back with a new record that screams Atlanta, just like his hit FX show of the same name. Awaken, My Love!, his third album, isn’t the same kind of Atlanta as Killer Mike or Young Thug per say, but more of the psych-rock Atlanta—the George Clinton playing funk on the keys while James Brown screams into the mic kind of Atlanta. The “sucker-punch” music, as ?uestlove put it.
The opening track “Me and Your Mama,” might just be one of my favorite songs of the year. Sounding like Outkast’s “SpottieOttieDopalicious” turning into whatever a psych-rock James Brown would have sounded like (with his screams turning into lazer guitar wails). It was a surprise to see the Because the Internet rapper take such a different direction, but with this track it paid off immensely. The record is pretty derivative of late 60’s and 70’s psych-rock, but it does something for funk that Bruno Mars’ pop-driven record did not—pays homage yet still innovates.
Gambino makes Awaken, My Love! unique by getting really weird with it. The “let me into your heart” love jam that kicks off the record is titled “Me and Your Mama.” Songs like “Boogieman” and “Zombies” are basically just really diggable versions of the “Monster Mash,” but deal with racial profiling and people who feed off other’s success, respectively. Unlike Bruno Mars’ record (sorry to keep hounding on it), Gambino took a stance. Fun music can still be about something. Crazy concept right?
Tracks like “Redbone,” “Riot,” and “Terrified” are really decent funk tracks, and most of the record has a great groove to it despite what you may think of his raw and sometimes out of tune vocals, but one track that I have no sympathy for is “California.” For a record holding some of my favorite tracks this past month, “California” is purely awful, and barely listenable. There’s no vocal clarity and so many awkward instrumentation choices that I honestly don’t know what he was thinking; and that’s one of the interesting things about Donald Glover. Sometimes he’s a genius, but it always comes with a hint of pretension. I’m sure Glover wouldn’t hesitate at allowing me to call Awaken, My Love! a “soul odyssey.” Regardless, the record holds a lot of really interesting moments. If I had to define it as a genre, I’d call it “freak-funk.” It’s something that I didn’t know I needed, but I’m glad that its here.