Childish Gambino Grows Up with Royalty Mixtape

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Dave Martin / AP

Childish Gambino performs during the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Manchester, Tenn. on June 9, 2012.

This post is in partnership with Consequence of Sound, an online music publication devoted to the ever growing and always thriving worldwide music scene.

Some find it laughable that comedian Donald Glover would forge a rap career as Childish Gambino, but last fall’s CoS Top Star-earning Camp zipped the lips of many a heckler. This year, Gambino returned on the Fourth of July with a new mixtape, Royalty, to silence the last of the snickering. The resulting 18 tracks are light on the punch lines, heavy on the swag, and an overall mighty declaration of newfound skill and confidence despite a few missteps.

“We Ain’t Them” is Gambino at his most succinct and self-assured, discussing his newfound status (“Feelin’ like the other stuff is kinda behind us/ Making jokes here and there got us some dollars/ Trying to show the whole world what it is and it ain’t a game”) while further revealing cutting truths (“Back of my mind, I hope the show [Community] gets cancelled/ Maybe then I can focus”), all with the tone of a man who’s grown up in just a few months. Even when he does display vulnerability, busting out his trademark family yarns, the sentiment feels consistent with his newly acquired maturity.

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While the beat of “Shoulda Known” sounds like a Camp leftover with its electro-synths and drum machine clatter, it sees his confidence continue to rise, busting out antagonistic lines like with a nod to Dr. Dre: “It’s eastside if you can’t tell/ North Decatur and Glendales/ So fuck y’all, all y’all/ If y’all don’t like me/ Good”. It lacks any iota of Gambino’s sometimes dubious wordsmithery, but it’s a profound statement of his desire to leave behind the doubt and insecurity that has plagued him for so long.

In rap, the way to definitively demonstrate a healthy ego is team up with other MCs for a (somewhat) friendly competition of mic skills. While Royalty features Beck and even Tina Fey, the most intriguing guest spots are the Bun B-aided “R.I.P.” and “Toxic” featuring Danny Brown.

The former, built upon Kavinsky & Lovefoxxx’s “Nightcall,” begins with Bun B’s impossible-to-follow flow, spitting lines like “Doing all the right things in the wrong ways/ Doing all the wrong shit for the right reasons” that ride the beat like a shiny drop-top. Gambino’s contribution masterfully sees him go back to the one-liners (“Rest in peace to them niggas who was dead wrong/ Toni Braxton to them niggas/ That’s a sad song”) but delivered in a new, menacing way that depicts him as a rapper who makes jokes and not vice versa.

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“Toxic” and its sample of Britney Spears’ 2003 hit is a consciously goofy decision that Brown and Gambino embrace with gusto. Once more, Gambino’s collaborator is on the top of his game, with Brown busting out his usual wacky shtick (“Flow so pneumonia/ Ya bitch want my bonah”) with rich vocal inflections and plenty of insanity. To his credit, Gambino busts out his best wacko, delivering lines like “Fandango my Mandingo/ We should do a movie/ Groupies looking like Yakuza in my Jacuzzi.”

The missteps on the album come from Gambino relishing his weaknesses, like on the half-baked Weeknd banger “Make It Right.” It’s not the kind of avant R&B the Gambino thinks it is, but rather the interplay between Gambino and up-and-comer Kilo Kish is just reminiscent of that style. It’s not a bad effort, but Gambino’s flow and golden pipes are just too powerful to be confined to lazy sing-talking. Plus, Kish’s pronounced presence feels unfamiliar, considering Gambino’s micro-managed every other album track.

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Speaking of which, “They Don’t Like Me” is the manifestation of Gambino’s desire for control taken to its unfortunate extreme. There is little of that heart and soul Gambino’s known for, and the track results in a pessimistic worldview. Without that lust for the positive, the track feels bland and uninspired. “Wonderful”, on the other hand, shifts gears in the opposing emotional direction, sounding far too grand and anthemic. Josh Osho’s overly saccharine harmonies aside, it’s the track’s celebratory piano groove that’s overtly mainstream for Gambino’s aesthetic. The whole vibe and feeling of the song hurts what could be meaningful personal observations (“This nigga think he hot shit/ He think he good at everything/ I just didn’t wanna get left out more”), leaving them sounding inauthentic to the Gambino canon.

Gambino’s skills and prominence continue to grow and develop, and he’s becoming a tried and true success story of actor-turned-musician. If there’s anything he still needs work on, it’s to trust more in what he’s doing and shake off those last remaining bits of uncertainty. If he can do that, then the last laugh will truly be his.

Essential Tracks: “We Ain’t Them”, “R.I.P.”

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VictoriousVictory
VictoriousVictory

The truth is no one will probably see this comment and i dont really care. Childish Gambino didn't need to "grow up" , and by "grow up" i mean compromise. In the mixtape ROYALTY gambino does not do what he unique for , he clearly aimed for a broader listening audience to make him more popular, and to fans who have been following his shit from when he first started its very disappointing. Not in the fact that he is getting more popular but the fact that he is changing in the way of becoming an "everyday radio rapper". Childish Gambino has always been different and by saying he grew up on royalty is a little sad. Just because the social norm of rap is so culturally popular most rappers often compromise on what makes them different from the rest , and that is what Childish Gambino did on Royalty. As a sincere fan who follows all his music knows every lyric to every line , follows all his crew on twitter, gone to all the shows in my area, and have been listening to him since Day One.  If  Gambino continues to "grow up" I will stop listening  just so i can have a great memory of Childish instead of a bad one.  And if by the most random chance that one of his people see this tell Donald to not forget about the fans that loved him before Bonfire and Heartbeat. That listened to all the songs on Camp and not just those two, the same ones who listened to all of his prior mixtapes and loved them. Tell him not to forget that he has actual fans and has had them before Camp , the people that loved him for "talking white." We are here Donald don't forget about the people that loved you before all the fame and the hype.

P.S. What the fuck happened to SicBoi (the suburban illuminati)

Sincerly,

Victorious Victory