“The potential of Black Genius lies within the interest, and inevitably the talents, we all have within us. The potential and capacity to achieve Black Genius grows when that interest is cultivated into skill. Black Genius is realized and achieved in those spectacular moments when we collectively utilize our talent and skill to disrupt and dismantle institutional systems of oppression. Black Genius is realized when we collectively imagine and construct new systems based on the values of equity and justice for all. Black Genius is within us all, but can only be realized when we recognize it in each other. Even more, Black Genius is ours to deepen, to understand, and to leverage in order to create a better tomorrow.”
-William P. Jackson
Donald Glover is the quintessential genius of our generation. Screenwriter, actor, rapper, producer, director, star: he is all of them and none of them, a singular force of creativity bound only by the limits of his vast imagination. After cutting his teeth as a writer on Tina Fey’s 30 Rock, Glover went onto to Star on NBC’s cult classic sitcom Community. He simultaneously writes and stars in his own standup specials, and releases Hip Hop music under the moniker, Childish Gambino—a name he infamously picked up from a Wu-Tang Clan name generator. He’s released two proper studio albums (2011’s Camp and 2013’s Because The Internet) as well as several well received mixtapes (including the phenomenal STN MTN/Kauai double project), gaining both fans and steady acclaim with every release. Not being one to rest on his laurels, Childish Gambino returned at the latter end of the summer with his Pharos event.
It was a spectacular tour de force which combined music from his previously unnamed album, the first two episodes of his now widely popular and acclaimed television show Atlanta, and a light and laser show stretching across a dome built in the desert of California’s Joshua Tree. No cell phone usage was permitted, as Donald and his Royalty collective wanted people to interact with only the music and each other. It proved to be a resounding success and demand for his third album was at a fever pitch. On December 2nd that album, christened Awaken, My Love, was delivered. And was like nothing that fans, critics, or the general populace had come to expect from Donald Gambino.
Awaken, My Love is not a Hip Hop album. Gone are the days of witty punchlines and stories crafted in the vein of a nerdy kid trying to find his place in the world. In their place is a work steeped in funk and blues, mixed with George Clinton flourishes and Rick James’ sexual abandon. Childish Gambino channels the musical revolution that took place in the 70’s that was politically inclined and erotically intimate. He uses sound, both sonically and vocally, as a means to convey a narrative. Thematically, that narrative is similar to J.Cole’s recent effort, in that it speaks to concepts of the black male awareness of love, racial animosity, and fatherhood. However, where J.Cole is pointed and direct in his approach, Glover allows the overall atmosphere of his music to convey his message.
In the album’s first track, the fiery and aggressive Me And Your Mama, Gambino allows the two minute soft and lullaby-like opening to give way to a searing, angry guitar as he throatily screeches his pang and longing for the acceptance of an unreadable woman. The song is six minutes of expression from a man whose heart is so far entrenched in the muck of another’s soul, you can literally FEEL the gusto of desire beating fervently throughout the track. This gives way to the funkadelic inspired Have Some Love, which is in competition for my favorite individual song of the year. It is lyrically repetitive, with the theme of racial love amongst our people echoing itself with joyously sunny production and a simple, yet rewarding, motive. Boogieman and Zombie take the Rick James homage to its zenith, both funky and untamed as Gambino croons and uses his voice in pointed effect. Redbone is the album’s high point, as Gambino transforms his voice into the ultimate falsetto and sings a lush ballad of unreconciled affection.
You wanna make it right, but now it’s too late
My peanut butter chocolate cake with Kool-Aid
I’m trying not to waste my time
If you want it, oh
You can have it (you can have it)
If you need it (you better believe in something)
We can make it, oh If you want it
You can have it, ah!
But stay woke (stay woke)
Niggas creepin’ (they be creepin’)
They gon’ find you (they gon’ find you)
Gon’ catch you sleepin’ (gon’ catch you sleepin’, put your hands up on me)
Now stay woke
Now don’t you close your eyes
Baby Boy, another instant pleaser, is both relatable in its sincerity towards new fatherhood and the potentially heartbreaking reality that a father’s rights are continually at the mercy of the mother. Here Gambino pleads with the unnamed woman not to take his child away, as his love for her has now been displaced by devotion to the child.
Little hands, little feet
Tiny heart, tiny beat
Oh, thinkin’ about the time we spent falling in love (in love)
I don’t wanna leave you, I don’t want him to see you
But oh, when mama cries and daddy lies
Oh my, please don’t take him away, no, no, no
Don’t take him away
Oh, cause I had my doubts, oh!
Don’t take my baby boy
Don’t take my pride and joy
I hope I stay close
I hope I stay close
All the pain, all the tears
Many nights, many years
This love for me is fading
You waited, but I never came home to you
I’ve never lied about us
We were never supposed to be together
When you see me with some other one and they know your son
Oh, please don’t take him away
You said you’re wrong but you knew
The album’s closing track, Stand Tall, is both message and berceuse to his child, as he implores the newborn to simply stay strong through life’s perils. It is a universal message, punctuated by the starry production as Gambino takes us once more through the astral projection that is this album’s world. For the man who once wrote an entire screenplay to accompany and flesh out the narrative to his sophomore album, the challenge came in creating a living, breathing galaxy to house the ambition of his third. Awaken, My Love is a triumph of creativity and musical dexterity, proving that imagination is and will remain superior to logic. Donald Glover wields his imagination as a child would crayons, coloring outside of the lines and refusing to adhere to the ‘rules’.
And the result is nothing short of amazing.