Music Quickspins

QUICKSPINS: Childish Gambino – 3.15.20

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.

Rating: 7/10

Trial Track: “24.19”


The death of rap punchlines

A talent that was once renowned is now deemed corny–what happened?

Punchlines once ruled hip hop. In the ‘90s and 2000s, rappers like Big L, Lil Wayne and Eminem dominated the genre by rapping some of the most clever lines imaginable. Then, towards the end of the decade and at the beginning of the 2010s, it seemed hip hop began to turn its back on punchlines.

Rappers like Childish Gambino and Drake have coasted on barely passable punchlines that are more cringe than clever. Drake infamously rapped “Got so many chains they call me Chaining Tatum” on the egregious Views track “Pop Style.” Gambino’s 2011 track “Freaks and Geeks” was a haven for corny punchlines that, to a teenage version of myself, sounded astoundingly clever but in reality, are lazy and frankly gross (“An elephant never forgets/ That’s why my dick remembers everything”).

In fact, Childish Gambino, an artist who essentially blew up because of his punchlines, has never really been good at them. The entirety of his debut album, Camp, was based on them. On “Bonfire,” he raps “Okay, it’s Childish Gambino, homegirl drop it like the NASDAQ / Move white girls like there’s coke up my ass crack.” While those lyrics may have been clever for a young audience, they’ve aged like milk.

The juvenile lyrics were a foundation for Pitchfork’s devastating 1.6/10 rating that baffled all his fans. I asked myself: “How could something so clever and funny be so bad to them?” TheNeedleDrop also infamously gave him a 2/10 after primarily critiquing the weak bars. He followed with the album, Because the Internet, which fared better with critics but was still largely criticized for Gambino’s poor punchlines; he raps “Got no patience, cause I’m not a doctor,” on hit single “3005.”

While Gambino isn’t solely responsible for the steady decline of punchlines in rap during the 2010s, he was certainly a catalyst. But what made Lil Wayne, Big L and Eminem’s punchlines from hip hop’s rise to prominence so incredible?

Lil Wayne is constantly debated as one of the best rappers of all time for his smart play on words and unique ability to create punchlines. On “6 Foot 7 Foot,” Wayne raps “Real G’s move in silence like lasagna,” a bar that might seem like nonsense on first listen, but a quick backtrack will show how sneaky the pun in the bar is. True, the song is one of Wayne’s more recent songs, but the punchline is a reflection of how clever Wayne was in his prime.

Big L was also as iconic before his untimely death in 1999. Known to be a master of punchlines, some of his bars are truly hilarious, like on “98 Freestyle” where he raps “Before I buck lead and make a lot of bloodshed/ Turn your tux red, I’m far from broke, got enough bread/ And mad hoes, ask Beavis I get nothing Butthead.”

Punchlines haven’t exactly left; Eminem is still writing some, as can be found on his newest album Music to be Murdered By. However, the bars are substantially weaker than the rhymes back on his earlier works like The Slim Shady LP and The Marshall Mathers LP, both of which remain some of the best-written hip hop albums of all time.

Music to be Murdered By featured lyrics like “How can I have all these fans and perspire?/ Like a liar’s pants, I’m on fire.” It’s evident that Eminem has become lazy. It’s no secret that his lyricism has been questioned all decade.

Lil Wayne has also toned down the number of punchlines he’s rapped since Tha Carter IV. In 2020, punchlines seem to have become a thing of the past; no one particularly likes them anymore.

The most popular songs from the latter half of the 2010s offer less on the rapping front and more on melodies and captivating instrumentals. Rappers like Lil Uzi Vert, Playboi Carti, and Roddy Ricch have written songs with fun, albeit simple lyrics about their lives that are ultimately more compelling than a forced joke that tries to act as proof that the rapper is sharp with their pen.

Lyricism has been about more than just wordplay. Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly is lauded for its smart lyrics and substantive subject matter. While certainly not everyone’s favourite album from the Compton rapper, it’s a hallmark of lyricism with raps that tackle complex themes without breaking them down into cheap one-liners.

Hip hop fans at the end of the 2010s couldn’t care less about punchlines. They’ve become an important piece of history within hip hop but the genre has moved past them. Rest in peace to rap punchlines—it’s been real.



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Music Quickspins

Childish Gambino – Awaken, My Love!

Childish Gambino  – Awaken, My Love! (Glassnote Records, 2016)

Over two years have passed since Donald Glover, a.k.a. Childish Gambino, last released an album. Nothing could have prepared us for Awaken, My Love!. The album is a complete departure from Glover’s signature, introspective bars and witty punchlines. In fact, there is absolutely no rapping on the project—it’s an all-out funk and soul project. The album’s opener, “Me and Your Mama” is a six-minute long rollercoaster, starting off with some airy, atmospheric instrumentation and dialed-back female vocals, leading into a heavy funk instrumental. The album’s second track contains an infectious bass line, fantastic drums and a Prince-esque vocal performance from Glover over a twinkling glockenspiel. “California” is the album’s only glaring flaw. Though the instrumental has a nice tropical bounce, the vocal performance is very jarring. Overall, Glover and company deliver a fantastic throwback soul album, filled with lush instrumentals and great vocal performances.

Trial Track: “Redbone”

Score: 8.5/10

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