The final album from Childish Gambino sees the multi-talented artist distance himself even further from rap
Donald Glover doesn’t follow any patterns. Be it in his music, his movies, his TV series, there’s no one-word you can use to describe the Stone Mountain-bred artist. After an abrupt end to his rap albums with the beautifully retro Awaken, My Love! under the Childish Gambino moniker, fans wondered if they’d ever hear him rapping again.
Sure, “This Is America” is technically a rap song, and sure, his feature on 21 Savage’s “Monster” is a rap verse, but those two moments are literally the only times we’ve heard Gambino rap since his 2014 mixtape STN MTN.
Childish Gambino released his newest album 3.15.20 on a Sunday morning at 3 a.m.—on his website. You couldn’t download any tracks, nor could you even know what song was playing as it was just one long stream with no breaks in between tracks. As was expected, there was little-to-no rapping, which is for the best.
Rapping has never been Gambino’s strong suit. He’s been able to scrape by with inventive concepts that show how hard he’s trying to create a unique experience no one else is offering. Because the Internet was a millennial look at life in an internet-filled world and was accompanied by a script that reflected on mortality. Awaken, My Love! echoed the funk-driven sound perfected by Funkadelic, a prominent funk band from the 70s. It was also seemingly dedicated to his then newborn son.
3.15.20 feels like it’s lacking that conceptual drive. Instead of a cohesive storyline, the album feels like a loose collection of tracks that feel more like summer-ready bops than a narrative-driven project. The songs aren’t basic, as Gambino really tries to experiment with instrumentals, vocal effects, and track lengths throughout the 12 tracks.
“Algorythm,” (yes that’s what it’s actually called) is the first real track on the album that sounds like a computer-generated banger. Gambino’s lyrics are simple and uneventful, but the hook is enough to bolster the track from boring to decent.
“Time” features the stellar Ariana Grande who shows great chemistry with Gambino as they both sing the chorus in an uplifting way (“Maybe all the stars in the night are really dreams/ Maybe this whole world ain’t exactly what it seems/ Maybe the sky will fall down on tomorrow”). Gambino manipulates his vocals to make them seem both robotic and drugged-out.
The hooks shine the most on 3.15.20 because of how sticky they are. “19.10” and “47.48” are breezy guitar-led tracks that sound like they came from the 60s while high on a cocktail of drugs.
The album’s highlights come in the shape of “12.38,” “24.19” and “42.26” (previously released as “Feels Like Summer.” The first of the three tracks features an excellent 21 Savage verse accompanied by a strong instrumental from DJ Dahi and bright vocals from Gambino.
“24.19” is a beautiful track dedicated to a “sweet thing” who moved to southern California and follows her parents’ orders daily. The lyrics are a bit all over the place (“If you wanna be happy, don’t look at my phone), and that somewhat brings it down, but the instrumental and the vocal effects are enough to distract from the few iffy moments. That said, the first verse without any alterations to Gambino’s voice is the most sincere part of the album (You wouldn’t change a hair/ Sometimes I wonder why you love me / But you love me). However, the track runs about four minutes too long and, along with many other tracks, overstays its welcome.
Gambino falters a little after that track as “32.22” and “35.31” are a bit underwhelming. The former track is one of the grimiest beats on the album but comes out of nowhere and seems a bit out of place. “35.21” is a childish attempt at making a country-rap crossover that sounds more like a kids’ song than an experimental island song the album seems to have been preaching up until this point.
Thankfully the album closes out nicely with “42.26,” “47.48” and “53.49” which allow Gambino to stick the landing on a good––but rather quaint––album. 3.15.20 is a step back from Awaken, My Love! but it is still enjoyable to an extent. It feels unfinished and the track titles are just psychopathic.
Glover has been vocal about 3.15.20 being his final album under the Childish Gambino moniker. It may be time to retire him indeed, but Glover should continue to make music. It’s become evident that he no longer wants to rap, which is what Gambino is primarily known for (if you exclude “Redbone”). But if there’s one thing that 3.15.20 makes apparent, it’s that Glover should have been singing his whole career.
Trial Track: “24.19”