Five years ago, I was just starting to broaden my musical taste. I began diving into more hip-hop like Kendrick Lamar and Kanye West and even dabbled in rock bands like Muse and a little bit of Radiohead. However, one of the artists I truly started to love was Childish Gambino. Hearing Because the Internet as a 14 year old blew my mind and I thought that album had to be one of the greatest albums of all time. Looking back in hind-sight, BTI was really important in helping me develop my musical taste, with more experimental songs like “Shadow” and “The Flight Navigator” being on the same album as “3005” and “Sweatpants” coming together to give me an album that dives both into commercial hip-hop and pop as well as more out-of-the-box tracks.
As you can probably guess, I was crazy excited when Childish Gambino announced his third album Awaken, My Love! in the fourth quarter of 2016. The whole roll-out, from the app PHAROS. to him releasing two singles before the album, which I had not listened to, had me anticipating another masterpiece. The cover art was also intriguing to me, as the black and fluorescent blue aesthetic looked simultaneously creepy and euphoric. Once December 2nd came around and the full album dropped, the first thing I had to do that day was listen to it.
Needless to say, I hated it on first listen. I was extremely confused, as the first song “Me and Your Mama” started off with an almost lullaby-esque R&B intro, reminding me of BTI. Then, the song abruptly turns into a funk and psychedelic rock epic with Childish Gambino screaming and hollering at the top of his lungs. I was stunned and surprised, but I had to go on to see if that song was a one-off. Next was the song “Have Some Love”, which I hated even more than the last song. It is a spooky piece of psychedelic funk with kooky vocals from Donald Glover that sounds just like what the cover looks like, and I just could not stand Glover’s weird inflections and the group vocals. Songs like “Boogieman”, “Zombies”, and “Riot”, which leaned just as heavily into the psychedelic funk rock and psychedelic soul as the beginning of the album, did not help my confusion. On first listen, the only songs I kind of liked were “Redbone”, besides the vocals, and “Stand Tall”. After the last song ended, I was incredibly disappointed and thought Childish Gambino’s streak of amazing albums was done for. I would just wait until he released another rap album, if he even wanted to do another one.
Fast forward 5 years later, and I can safely say that this album has become among my favorites of all time. This album introduced me to a whole genre of music I barely scratched the surface of: funk music. I had listened to a bit of Prince and Earth, Wind, and Fire growing up as a kid, but those artists had plenty of pop appeal. Instead of going for those artists’ sound, Childish Gambino takes a nostalgic trip to the sounds of incredibly influential funk artists I have now grown to love like Parliament-Funkadelic, The Meters, Bootsy Collins, Sly and the Family Stone, and Ohio Players. I love everything about this album, from the funk banger of “Riot” to the soft soul reminiscent of D’Angelo on “Baby Boy”. There is not one misstep on this album and the album just gives me a very nocturnal vibe that is very hard to resist.
Awaken, My Love! not only stands as among the most eccentric mainstream albums of the 2010s, but it is also wholly original in an age of trap-beats and disco grooves. Not that that type of music is bad, but Awaken, My Love! shows a level of experimentation that no other major artist has tapped into in the past decade, and because of that the album remains just as refreshing and original as it was 5 years ago.