On his first full length album in 2011, Donald Glover claims ‘Gambino is a mastermind’ – at the time that seemed like an overstatement. Camp was good, in fact it was one of the first hip-hop records I listened to front to back, and really liked at that. His lyrics were funny, they were smart, but ‘mastermind’ was a leap. Because the Internet was better – it was more mature, it had a flow that was arguably missing from Camp. It was structured, and was justly rewarded; the album was nominated for ‘Best Rap Album’ at the 2015 Grammys, and 3005 was nominated for ‘Best Rap Performance’. Gambino seemed on the cusp of greatness, ‘mastermind’ in his reach. The first single released from Gambino’s upcoming LP ‘Awaken, My Love!’, Me and Your Mama, was a curveball, and it was brilliant. A heavy riff, Black Keys-ish in melody and anything but Gambino-ish in his vocals, it left us intrigued; it left us wanting more.
Redbone undeniably continues this progression towards ‘mastermind’ status. Synthesised keys and a slow beat precedes a calm, addictive melodic hook. It slides into the track and is superb in its minimalism. It isn’t overplayed in Redbone, leaving the bass to drive the track forwards, it almost feels like a funk throwback track with a 2016 twist – the bass is simple, groovy, and unlike anything Gambino has done before. Vocals are auto tuned, echoing Nikes by Frank Ocean, to similar effect. Trance-like in its smoothness, showing that Glover is working on creating an atmosphere in his music, lyrics not necessarily being neglected, but benched while he works on an overall musical experience in his work. The gospel choir in the refrain shows more musical experimentation from Glover, and it works remarkably well, bringing the contrasting bass riff, auto tune vocals and gospel into perfect harmony. He clearly has increasing confidence in his musical powers, and in branching out to include a more varied amount of musical features in his work that’s only going to increase.
Lyrically Glover paints a picture of unrequited desire. He longs for a lover, offering himself up to her, ‘If you want it / You can have it / If you need it / We can make it / If you want it / You can have it’ – short, to the point, and letting the music do the work. The fast and furious lyrics of Camp and to a degree Because the Internet have been cast aside in both Redbone and Me and Your Mama. Relationship troubles have cropped up in Glover’s lyrics before, but he hits us with this straight away in Redbone. ‘Daylight / I wake up feeling like you won’t play right / I used to know, but now that s*** don’t feel right / It made me put away my pride’ – with the tempo slowed right down every word matters more, and he gets straight to the point with some imagery that sets the tone of things to come.
Overall the single is polished, smart and wickedly good; it’s a natural evolution of an artist on the brink of dropping potentially the biggest album of 2016, and that’s saying something. It seems that artists like Frank Ocean and Childish Gambino are ready to stretch the limit of what defines hip-hop music, and it is headed in the right direction if ‘Awaken, My Love!’ can live up to Ocean’s Blond and is as powerful as the first two singles he’s released suggest it will be. Anticipation was high after Me and Your Mama but Redbone has gone and lived up to and increased that, and Childish Gambino has set himself up to release an incredible album.