Album Review: Childish Gambino – Camp

By Laura McWhorter

Triskaidekaphobia (tris-kahy-dek-uh-foh-bee-uh) n. fear or a phobia of the number 13.

That’s right. The number 13 is so fraught with superstition that there are enough people scared of it…they named it. The only thing scary about the 13 tracks on Childish Gambino’s first studio release ‘Camp’ is the feeling that you’ll never love another rap album as much as you love this one (You probably will but you get the idea: it’s real good). From start to finish,…the lyrics to the beats, you’ll be hard-pressed to find something you don’t like and even harder-pressed to pick your favorite part.

Rap music doesn’t normally make me feel unintelligent. Broke? Lame? Boring? Sure. But never dumb. ‘Camp’ is a whole other story – making me feel a whole lot of the former and the exact opposite of the latter. If Gambino has a calling card it has to be his lyrics and ‘Camp’ definitely doesn’t disappoint. Half of my commute this past week has been spent rapping along and (more frequently) googling along to the lyrics. The word plays and pop-culture references run the gamut – from ‘Rugrats’ to ‘Full House’…Michael Bolton to François Truffaut. Being able to pick up on half of them has been my crowning accomplishment of the week. A broad spectrum of themes is also touched on – ranging from the harder, machismo (swag, dopeness, his junk) to the heart-felt, more somber subject matter (high-school, racism, bullying). It definitely takes on a more personal note at times and at the end of the album, you feel like you might have just gotten to know CG a bit more.

If you like the upbeat, party tracks, ‘You See Me’, ‘Bonfire’, ‘Fire Fly’ (this one reminds me of Biggie), ‘Heartbeat’ and ‘Sunrise’ are the ones you want to peep first. Want a softer flow? Check ‘Kids (Keep Up)’, ‘L.E.S.’ and ‘All the Shine’. Tracks: ‘Outside’, ‘Backpackers’ and ‘Hold You Down’ flex a harder muscle and some more serious themes. I think what I’m trying to get at here is there’s some variety in this album. It’s a novel with no exposition and about five climaxes throughout its course. After this lyrical/sonic rollercoaster…‘That Power’ handles the resolution. The initial rap sums up (and solidifies) Gambino’s position in the rap game (On stage with my family in front of me/I am what I am/ Everything I wanna be. All these haters/See you later/). The track ends with a short story about 13-year-old Donald at camp. I won’t spoil it but it helps to understand the man behind the music just a little bit and it’s dangerously close to being my favorite part of the whole album.

Gambino has already released six mixtapes completely gratis. ‘Camp’ marks the first time he’ll be releasing his signature tunes with a price tag. There are some that will mark this as ‘selling out’ but I think it’s different. Going legit feels like a decision FOR the fans – not in spite of them. He made the entire album on his own dime in a tiny studio. Only when faced with publishing realities did the idea of a record deal start to make sense. It was the only way he could get the piece to the masses in the formats the music requires/deserves. Gambino on vinyl? Cmon now. I’ve already had to turn down (and scold) at least five friends who’ve asked me to rip this album for them. I know downloading music is all the rage but if you plan on spending money on any album this year…make it this one. And do it multiple times. Hell, I got it for free and I’m still gonna buy it.

Track List:
1. Outside
2. Fire Fly
3. Bonfire
4. All The Shine
5. Letter Home
6. Heartbeat
7. Backpackers
8. L.E.S.
9. Hold You Down
10. Kids (Keep Up)
11. You See Me
12. Sunrise
13. That Power

Camp is out now on Glassnote Records. Pick it up on iTunes, Amazon MP3, CD, Vinyl

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