STN MTN/Kauai is the latest project from Childish Gambino, or Donald Glover as fans of US show Community might know him, following his successful sophomore album Because The Internet ten months ago. STN MTN (standing for Stone Mountain, Georgia where Gambino grew up) and Kauai are a mixtape and EP respectively which, when combined, form a concept album that continues the story found in Because the Internet. STN MTN is a mix of original production and remixes presented as a Gangsta Grillz mixtape, hosted by DJ Drama, whereas Kauai comes across as more R&B influenced and features almost no rapping compared to the first half of the project. It is important to note that Gambino begins STN MTN with the line, “I had a dream” and ends it with the line, “…and then I woke up”, making it evident that this half of the album is just a dream of the protagonist, aptly named ‘The Boy’ (voiced by none other than Jaden Smith on Kauai).
STN MTN [6/10] distances itself from Because the Internet, despite being linked to the story, and, musically, sounds more like Gambino’s 2012 mixtape, ROYALTY. ‘The Boy’ is dreaming that he is a rapper at the top of the charts and so the mixtape often emulates the mid-2000s Atlanta hip hop sound typically found in the works of T.I. and Ludacris. Gambino’s corny lyrics and punchlines may put off the average listener but anyone who has listened to him previously will just accept it as part of his rapping style. Highlights on STN MTN have to be ‘Candler Road’, because of the beat change (very common nowadays), and the first track, ‘Dream/Southern Hospitality/Partna Dem’, on which Gambino puts on the persona of The Boy before he goes harder than we’ve heard in recent years. My standout favourite track from STN MTN is ‘AssShots (Remix)’ as Gambino brings his crew ‘R O Y A L T Y’ along for a great posse cut.
Unlike STN MTN, Kauai [9/10] returns to the sound prevalent in Because the Internet and Gambino shows us how well he can croon along to the extremely chilled song production. Having indicated to the listener that The Boy is now awake and back to reality, Kauai begins with the soothing ‘Sober’, now one of my favourite Childish Gambino songs. Before Before The Internet I did not know how well Gambino could sing but his foray into R&B-esque tracks over the last year has proven the outstanding quality of his vocals. ‘Pop Thieves’ and ‘Retro’ are also great songs but my second favourite track behind ‘Sober’ is without a doubt ‘The Palisades’. This track sounds like something Pharrell could have produced and comes across as infectiously funky as soon as the first chords are heard. The most unusual part of Kauai is that Jaden Smith makes an appearance as the voice of The Boy on ‘Pop Thieves’ and ‘Late Night in Kauai’. His spoken word sections are weirdly soothing with the backing instrumental and it’s clear to see why Gambino links the character of The Boy (the troubled and spoilt son of a famous musician in Because The Internet) with Jaden. The final track on Kauai, ‘3005 (Beach Picnic Version)’ is a nice call-back to Because the Internet but was particularly skippable until someone on the internet found a vocal track deep within Gambino’s own website and mixed the two, creating a secret track that Gambino had hinted to himself on the screenplay for Because The Internet ten months ago. This final track is beautiful and I haven’t been able to stop listening to it for the last week or so, so I recommend the listener find a download for this secret track online and add it to their album immediately.
STN MTN is very well put together and the production is definitely on point, but unfortunately it sounds quite generic at times and it doesn’t grab the attention nearly as much as Kauai does, despite it being twice as long. STN MTN/Kauai appears to be Gambino’s method of showing his fans that he is split between two distinct styles, although it seems to me to be clear that he should stick with the smooth sound established on Kauai and Because the Internet, as it gives him a chance to show off his singing voice, as well as his rapping.