05 July 2012

Review: Childish Gambino - Royalty

Donald Glover aka mc DJ aka Childish Gambino. It's rare to see someone so accomplished be a beast in every single one of his hustles and remain true to what made them. A graduate of NYU, ex-writer for 30 Rock, current actor on Community, hilarious stand-up comedian, singer, rapper, musician, producer, this man has lived a life that most of us could only dream of. When opportunities keep flowing in like that have for this man, it only makes sense to keep the ball rolling.

One thing about being a rapper is that it's a "What Have You Done For Me Lately" type of business. You are only a good as your last project. Which leads me to CG's latest mixtape, Royalty. Leading up to its release, Gambino mentioned the one thing he has yet to release is a collaboration album. When I heard that, it immediately threw up a red flag for me. Would these collabs be with a ton of underground unknowns, or would this mixtape be a collection of coon tunes? More importantly, though, would Gambino maintain his musical integrity when it's all said and done?

The result is a mixed bag. The album kicks off with the single "We Ain't Them," which is classic CG at his best. Original flow, wordplay off the chain, all over the type of beat we come to expect from the brotha. The majority of what follows is a slow descent into the exact same xerox copied trap music true Gambino fans try to avoid. In fact, most folks became fans of his music for that exact reason. He started off as a breath of fresh air who spoke to a crowd of "nerds" who couldn't relate to the hood/trap music that floods the market these days.

One thing I noticed is, most of the songs that have a hood feel to them are the ones where he's collaborating with a hood artist. All things considered, most of these collabs are not all terrible. "Black Faces" ft. Nipsey Hussle is a fairly decent track, but Nipsey's verse is so good that it almost excuses Gambino's attempt at sounding wreckless. The overall message of the song is strong enough though. The next track, "Unnecessary" ft. 1/2 of Black Hippy is another track that is pretty good, but again, it's not a great "Childish Gambino" song. Schoolboy Q and Ab-Soul ab-soul-utely destroy their verses. Gambino can't keep up with these cats in content, or punchlines. Nice try homie, but the gap in talent is evident.

The following track, "Shoulda Known," is another classic Gambino track that really works. It's a shame there isn't much more of this honest, personal music on this album. In the last verse, he mentions how he was pressured into putting out a hood sound that people can feel. I suppose this song is his excuse for the way this album sounds as a whole.

I don't know how he got it done, but he managed to land collabs with legends RZA, Bun-B, and even got Ghostface to knock out an interlude track. All of these songs are good, but Gambino fails to shine brighter than his guest stars. Then there's the trash known as "Toxic," ft. Danny Brown. I still haven't figured out what the appeal is with this guy, but he has the most obnoxious rapping voice I've ever heard. I'm assuming Danny Brown surrounds himself with YES-MEN that refuse to be real with him and tell him he sucks. I can't stand the way he raps. This is one of the only collabs where Gambino steals the show, even though his verse definitely could have been a little better.

The majority of the rest of the album is catered to everything CG fans are against. The hood sound is just not something that fits him when we know what he is capabale of, lyrically and production-wise. As a satirical jab at the entire project, Gambino allows his mentor Tina Fey to finish the album off with her own version of a n*gga rant that is absolutely hilarious, and truly necessary.

Royalty is not a bad album by any means. Childish Gambino still has punchlines we've grown to love over the years, it's just sad to see him cater more to the hood crowd this time around. This is the mixtape that you give to friends who are fans of the artist's CG collabs with, but for whatever reason have yet hear anything from Gambino himself. It's a great album to draw in the uninitiated.

Let's just hope he hasn't completely abandoned the rest of us...

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