Confession time – I am an absolute obsessive fan of Mr. Childish Gambino. I love his music, I love his playful self-deprecation, I love how he lays everything on the line and reveals his entire truth to the world without being asked or having been forced into it – I love the beats, the rhythm and the production, the music videos and the cult of personality he has created around his music and his image. He is, in my eyes, an absolute visionary. I know some will disagree, some will think he is a flash-in-the-pan poseur and that his music is leagues below some of his contemporaries. I get it. I understand. But – hear me out here… and apologies if it upsets your delicate view of the world and hip-hop and rap music, but… 3.15.20 is a fucking masterpiece.
Your initial listen may be tempered with memories of the infamous Pitchfork review from 2011, which called out Gambino for his pretensions and pastiche-y vibes. That review often called out Donald Glover rather than his musical Alter-Ego, and though that can be explained by Camp his 2011 debut album being the first long player of Gambino’s career – the character of Gambino and the face of Glover had not yet been properly established as very separate entities – 9 years on and four albums deep – the distinction is clear. The evolution of Gambino can now be explored clearly separate from the man behind the mask, and the music? Well, it very much speaks for itself now. Forgoing with song-titles and instead using time stamps taken from the brief and enigmatic release on Childish’s website, 30.15.20 is a love letter from an artist to his fans and it’s as crazy, addictive and inventive as we had hoped for after 2016’s Awaken My Love and the 2019 release of the short film Guava Island hinted that it could be.
“Algorythm” is a techno-industrial tinged club-banger that sets us up nicely for the complex musical journey we are about to embark on. It cavalcades with dalliances into funk, old school G-Funk hip-hop, gangster rap, R’n’B and Prince lite moments of vocal gymnastics that allow Gambino to truly utilise his impressive arsenal of vocal styles, characteristics and foibles entirely. Yes, occasionally (as has been apparent in ALL Gambino’s work) he slips uncomfortable close to sounds and compositions that are awkwardly like some of his peers previous releases (There are moments of Kanye West-esque tones, his riffing off the production of “American Pharaoh” by Jase Harley for “This Is America”) but he never plagiarises – instead, he pays token and tithe to their influences and inspirations, and twists new roots and branches with his own stamp, occasionally he will drag you in one direction before flipping the script and leaving you lost and confused in the thicket. His intent is to make music as a full body experience.
Whether you agree with me or not on the quality and importance of this as a release – that’s your business entirely – what is not up for discussion though is the weight and importance of some of the choices he has made with his art – and 3.15.20 is the perfect culmination of the Childish Gambino experiment. Dragging in every element and shade of his personality that has been on show across all his four albums, and his mixtapes, Gambino hands this album like a gift that will keep giving listen after listen after listen.
Occasionally it flits and flies in fanciful abandon so much that you feel there is no grand plan or framework the songs are meant to exist on. It can appear a tad slapdash and chaotic but delve deeper and you are continually rewarded. This is as inventive, as personal and as important as an album can be when weighed against the personality and importance of its creator. Plenty of reviewers have stated that it sometimes sags under the weight of its own grandeur – but believe me – every second, every seam has been examined and inspected and checked for its use and importance and not a second is wasted on the album on anything less than its absolute best. It really is an album to be experienced in one sitting rather than picked apart and broken down into its component parts.
I saw Childish Gambino live at the O2 in London in February of 2019 and it was the single best live show I have ever been too. This album captures every bead of sweat and every tingle, shocked hair and prickle of excitement I experienced at that gig and more some. It is an album that will outlive the character, and if this is truly the last “Childish Gambino” release it is a perfect farewell to an artist that I have grown to love and need in my life. Childish Gambino’s music has become so important and some pivotal in my appreciate of music in general that I am so elated that this album is here. It is impish, inventive and effortlessly cool. I love it, and I have not even begun to unravel all the tiny, brilliant elements that are hidden inside. I cannot recommend it enough and cannot wait to see what comes after this.
If Childish Gambino was Donald Glovers Ziggy Stardust, I am so excited to see his Thin White Duke, or his Berlin-Era. Literally anything can happen from here, and I am excited. I am very excited indeed.