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Childish Gambino, Camp

It took a while, but people—listeners, media, peers—are finally realizing that Childish Gambino isn’t a joke or a shtick. Why Gambino, the rap moniker of actor/comedian/writer Donald Glover, has to fight this rep should be no surprise. Too frequently, anyone with some semblance of spotlight tries to spit (Justin Bieber, Vinny from Jersey Shore, Spencer Pratt and too many more), and the results are usually abysmal. Combine that with the fact that Gambino’s rhymes are actually often funny, and he’s immediately fighting presumptions. As he began to do with past free releases like Culdesac and EP, Childish Gambino convincingly makes the case for respect as a rapper on his first retail offering, Camp.

Over electro leaning beats, Gambino stunts lyrical ingenuity, as he deftly tackles issues of race, class and family. His approach is layered: the 28-year-old boasts of current philandering and self-assuredness, then he balances that cocksureness with confessions of insecurities. It comes off as part overcompensation, part truth. And it’s Gambino’s acceptance, digestion and presentation of his own truth, paired with unapologetic lyricism, that has won over many fans.

The strongest display of Gambino as a lyricist comes on the album’s lead single, “Bonfire.” It’s his “I can really rap” moment, where the NYU graduate is intent on stringing together as many witty, imaginative lines as possible, kicking bars like, “I love pussy, I love bitches, dude, I should be runnin’ PETA,” and later “This rap is child’s play, I do my name like Princess Di.”

When it comes time for content and concepts, which mark the album, Gambino maintains an ability to relay the aspects of his situation that define him as an individual. On “Hold You Down,” he touches on growing up with a foster family, getting picked on at school, and not being “Black enough”—a theme that persists and continues to trouble Donald Glover. “This one kid said somethin’ that was really bad/He said I wasn’t really Black because I had a dad/I think that’s kinda sad/Mostly cause a lot of Black kids think they should agree with that,” he spits in the song’s second verse. “Outside,” again, deals with race, as well as his relationship with family, particularly his cousin.

On the album’s closer, “That Power,” one of a number of tracks where the all-around talent shows his singing abilities, too, he continues, indicting ignorance, no matter whose mouth it comes from: “Every Black ‘You’re not Black enough’ is a White ‘You’re all the same.’”

The narrative at times grows frustratingly predictable, though, akin to the zero-to-hero, standing-in-line-to-bottle-service stories that many rappers use as a crutch. This is typified in the final couplets of “Fire Fly,” where Gambino raps, “Girls used to tell me I ain’t cool enough/Now text me pics sayin’, ‘You could tear this up’/I don’t really like shades, big rims, or jewelry/But gettin’ time of day from a model is new to me/Bein’ me isn’t as hard as it used to be/Now everyone sing the chorus man, you do it so beautifully.”

Still, taken on the whole, Camp is full of top-tier lyricism, honesty, uncertainty and triumph. Childish Gambino is on his way to becoming a real hip-hop force, heading in a direction all his own. —Adam Fleischer

  • mark

    this album was much better than i thought it would be

    this actually deserves the xl rating

  • Hip Hop

    I’m a Community fan, but come on! As a rapper, Glover is all over the place. This album is messy, disoriented, and just feels awkward way too often. There are some great things here, both in terms of Glover’s rapping and some cool production techniques scattered all over the place. The last track is pretty cool, I like the storytelling that kinda ties the album together. While he has a flow that works towards his goofy personality, often times Glover seems to be doing a cheap imitation of Drake or Wayne. Or both. The album is definitely on the pop side, and isn’t likely to appeal to hip hop heads. Many beats are too vanilla for my interest, and this together with some uninteresting/questionable lyrical delivery makes this album a lot worse that it could have been.

    • swype-matic

      I’ve only heard one song from some video he has out, but as I was watching it, all I could think of was him being some Drake/J.Cole/Wiz Khalifa fusion.

      • BDuff

        If it was freaks and geeks that video is actually a bit of a mock of Drake

        • swype-matic

          Haha wow, that actually was the video I was talking about

    • Daniel F

      He’s doing a cheap impersonation of drake? I disagree….Childish’s album so much more hip hop than Drake’s album just in the fact that he comes so much harder lyrically than Drake. You can count all of Drake’s clever lines on both hands for Take Care when he actually does rap, Childish leaves you marveling at every song. On Take Care Drake becomes even more of an R & B artist and less of an MC to me. And on top of that Drake can’t even sing live! This album is a product of some singing talent and mostly great engineering. While childish can spit and sing every last joint from CAMP and Culdesac live in a full band setting, and actually have it sound good (Don’t even get me started on Drake’s live performing). I did like Take Care but it just wasn’t a hip hop album let alone a lyrical one. This however was an amazing album. Get this dude Gambino on the freshman list and the next BET cypher, do us all a favor.

      • frmmtl

        Here’s what I’m thinking. All those guys who posted above were born after 2000. It’s not their fault they don’t know good hip hop. It’s just their entire generation.

        • http://entelleckt.com Mike Wyatt | @Entelleckt

          If this isn’t good hip hop, what do you say is?

          • Joelthelionheart

            CWSS, Section 80, Watch the Throne. Take care was better than this because even though drake has been fucking up so big lately, he has (or had) credibility as an artist. Childish Gambino thinks he can rap. But all he is doing is trying too hard.

    • https://twitter.com/#!/willcDPR Will C.

      What? CG isn’t like anybody in the game. Just because he is good at acting and stand-up doesn’t mean that he cant’ be great or make an amazing album. Stop trying to limit him and put him in a box. He might sound like Wayne, but that’s because he’s from the south. And he is way better than Drake and he isn’t trying to be like Drake in anyway. If he was, he would be making radio songs. Camp is the best hip-hop album this year behind Section.80 and he even destroyed Kendrick in a freestyle cypher at SXSW. You aren’t hip-hop at all. You’re just a speculative pre-critical douche who can’t appreciate something different.

  • Hip Hop

    I’d give it a M. This guy can do a LOT better.

    • https://twitter.com/#!/willcDPR Will C.

      Are you kidding? You must be a troll.

  • philthedude

    XXL is starting to lose its value. they’ll give ANYONE an xl rating. Take it back to the old days and quit having fans of the artist or people who have known the artist do the reviews. Have an unbiased person write it and you’ll earn your credibility back.

  • http://tweetmysong.com/yy9k80 Bizzy

    Deserves a XXL, but I’m glad you recognized true talent for once and gave it at least an XL.

  • KeeM

    Have you guys even listened to the album?? this was a awesome freshman album…and its original content…for a geek/nerd to deliver the way he did is outstanding…some of you wont like it cause he isnt talking about hoe’s, cars, money, bitches and weed i guess…

  • Chadbro

    For a debut album this was outstanding, and to people saying that it was awkward and crap, that’s how Gambino is as a person. He states he wants to be himself on the tracks and it works perfectly. He tries to be different, unlike the mainstream crap that sounds exactly the same.

  • tee

    this dude is super dope and original… you can tell hes cool with telling you everything and not holding back… the beats are dope… the lyrics are deep and the whole album just crank so hard… you cant place him in a box … thats the best thing about dude

    • Kimoji

      Cosign

  • Shawty J

    I agree with the rating for the most part. This album was good, but not as good as it should’ve been. I’d say Culdesac is slightly better than this one.

  • Shawty J

    Oh yeah, something bugged me about the album. Where was “Untouchable”?

  • http://www.atrueunderdogstory.com Lamaboy

    So i just heard the album this morning. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into when I coped it, cause I heard he was nice; Plus I’m a fan of Community. He’s not that bad, why does every hip hop fan need to compare every rapper to someone else. Stop Generalizing the genre and putting it in a little box.

    Let Hip Hop grow, better or for worse. The kid can spit!

    Don’t be surprised if you see him on the Freshman Cover with A$ap Rocky next year.

  • Lokkja

    All of you who are calling Childish Gambino’s album messy, have you listened to Drakes? His is a random string of hooks and they gave the beats an XL. Also his lyrics are awful. Gambino may be talking about the same old same old, but at least his lyrics are punchy. As for flow, I’d say he’s MUCH MUCH closer to a kanye/Cudi than a Drake or Wayne.
    If we’re using XXL standards;
    Beats; XL. The first track was awful, but the rest of them were very well done.
    Lyrics; XXL. No they aren’t even close to slaughterhouse, Em, Vinnie, or an Immortal, but compared to the usual stuff XXL rates they’re way ahead of Drake for example who received an XL.
    Originality; L. Only original per se because there still aren’t a lot of nerdy rappers who talk as candidly as he does. However his style and content have been said before endlessly.

  • Jon

    I love CG been a fan for a while, this is XL compared to his other stuff but compared to other rappers this is an L. This rating pretty much is saying if he does better on his next album then it will be a classic, which it won’t, it would be an XL compared to other rappers.

  • spaceynyc

    I really think this guy is severely overrated. He’s tried way too hard to be different and awkward, yet at the same time, he raps exactly like Lil Wayne, and sometimes Kanye and a little bit of Drake. And he uses the Supa-Dupa (Big Sean) flow way too much… I really dont see why people like this dude.

  • Broock

    I don’t know who is the bigger dumbass, the guy who wrote this review or me for buying the album after reading this review….

  • Lloyd

    Culdesac wasn’t better

  • You know

    I think CG’s debut is pretty good…better than Take Care imo. Drake really should stop singing.

  • Tim

    I came to the XXL site via google search. But honestly I’m not surprised by all the negative reviews on this site. I would expect as much from XXL frequenters. Step out of the Gucci, Wayne, and Drake mindsets and experience music with out labeling it and forcing it to what YOU think he should sound like.

    His album is great IMO. Does he sound like Wanye? Yes on occasion, but he is way more lyrical than Wayne. And I agree with everyone else, CAMP > TAKE CARE.

  • Dmanan

    I suggest haters of this album take a second listen. Some may not like the “different” style and others are just too gangsta to like someone who hasn’t been shot. But you can’t deny this album is a success. Including Camp-D side this owns culdesac. Better than I expected after hearing leaks on youtube. I was a little dissapointed at first then I actually listened to the whole album and was blown away. #11 does have something weird going on w/ the volume that bugs the heck out of me but other than that this album is great. XXL 1,2,3,6,8,10,13 best tracks imo

  • FineChina

    Nice to see Gambino get some recognition. This dude is sick, his lines r way more clever then anything Drake or Wayne can come up with. This album itself wasn’t as good as some of his mixtapes but on the tracks that he does go hard on he goes all out. Bonfire’s crazy, Hold Me Down is one of the best I’ve heard in a long while, he has a crazy ass flow on Backpackers, saw You See Me live at Bruin Bash and it was beyond crazy, and That Power is a great song with a well told story to round out the album. All in all a great album, not Gambino’s best work but the good songs on the album are damn good songs

  • Ummm

    I heard this album and I gotta say, it was wild corny. Its just made me feel very awkward like I was listening to somebody act like a rapper over the course of an entire album, lol. Maybe I’m in the minority but sh*t just didnt feel like real rap.

  • jimbo

    this album was much better than i thought it would be

    this actually deserves the xl rating

    i agree put it in the ride last night and played it straight through 2 times really good album

  • eddie

    this album is great. up and coming rappers should take notes. gambino will succeed because hes creative and he brings something unique to the table. everyone sounds like someone, but gambinos lyrics are unparalleled. to all the lil wayne/drake comparisons. stop it. you ym fan boys WISH lil wayne could come up with this kind of material. gambino is weezy with a college degree and actual intelligence. want to make it in the rap game, throw away your 50cent,jeezy,gucci,weezy bitten styles and come up with something FRESH

  • Derik

    very good album for being self produced,and having no features

  • mr perfect *no relations*

    this album is good. you guys are crazy. hes just not a rapper

  • Mike White

    yes yes yes
    dis was dope to a T

  • Nick

    Good rating. Looking at it objectively, this album got the right rating. People just don’t like what they don’t relate to. They can’t be looking at the lyrics when they say this is a bad album. Or maybe they don’t feel like Google searching everything that went over their heads.

  • kev

    honestly this was a breath of fresh air in subject matter, flows, sound than anything mainstream. people listen to shit that doesn’t relate to them all the time, but sometimes i feel because cg is a ‘nerd’ that people will reject rather than accept. all the rappers “these days” talk about shit i dont care about anymore, weed, money, love life, drug dealing accomplishments and why you’re so fucking good at everything you do.

  • Ti

    XXL MAKE DIS NIGGA A FRESHMAN !!!!!

  • Kimoji

    CG is the evolution of hip hop. This was the first album i could listen to without skipping songs.

  • Therapist

    In case anyone was wondering Gambino’s been rapping for a while i think he states since like high school and he never really listened to mainstream music so that’s an added argument and for the most part he’s older than Drake, Big Sean and other rappers he’s “copy-catted” so to speak. It’s obvious that he is inspired through his life growing up and uses it to compare to his current life which makes him a very real lyricist in my opinion.
    P.s. dont be intimidated at the fact that Gambino makes you’re favorite rapper look like chump change because he can perform in all forms of media and be great

  • Usman Siddiqui

    compared to a lot of rap we hear now, this is a great fucking album. conpared to the entire genre, which dates back a few decades, it’s an alright album.
    as for the drake vs gambino dispute, i have no idea who wins, Take Care and Camp/EP are the only rap material I’m listening to right now, they’re both great.
    but gambino should be getting the same amount of credit and publicity as drake, and he should be getting a hella lot more than tyga, big sean, j cole, minaj, etc..

  • Hipster Weakness

    I don’t understand what the hype about Childish Gambino is. He’s a funny actor, but his rap is quite weak.

    His lines invoke zero emotion and are frequently some barely average level verse where he sticks some barely related cultural reference at the end of it. I get the fact that it’s cool ’cause some listeners will be able to listen and say ‘Ohhhh I totally know invader zim, that’s dope’. Past that, his lyrics are uninspired, pop dribble.

  • Gam

    W-A-C-K

  • dee

    stop hatin cuz he different, he has sumtn to say, and he says it better than other rappers, he ain coppyin drake or wayne, yall jus hatin cuz he gettn critical acclaim and respect, without conforming to ignorant close minded people standards

  • dee

    n yall comparin him to drake cuz he can sing????? woow, tht doesnt mean anything to what he is actually SINGING about.