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A Speedbump to Hurdle Over – Childish Gambino “3.15.20” Album Review

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From posting sketch comedy videos on YouTube and rapping over indie songs, to starring in Disney’s live-action remake of The Lion King alongside Beyoncé and headlining the Coachella music festival in 2019, Donald Glover’s career has catapulted to an astronomical level that no one could have ever predicted. Glover, being a true Renaissance man, stretches his talents across multiple platforms as an actor, writer, comedian, and musician. Aside from his Emmy and Golden Globe winning television show, Atlanta, or his resurgent role playing a young Lando Calrissian in Solo: A Star Wars Story, Glover’s most notable and highly acclaimed artistic endeavor is his musical persona as Childish Gambino. 

With over a decade’s worth of music under his belt, Glover’s work under Childish Gambino has evolved and morphed into an entirely new beast than what it once was. From the early mixtape days of Culdesac and I Am Just a Rapper with Glover filling every song to the brim with bars about girls and cartoon references, to his more recent soulful and societal-driven releases such as “Awaken, My Love!” and the massive hit “This Is America,” it is evident that Glover is not afraid to trek into unknown territory, sonically speaking. 

Now that it has been a few years since the release of his last full-length project, “Awaken, My Love!” back in 2016, fans have been impatiently waiting to hear what new sounds Childish Gambino will tackle. We’ve gotten a hint of the direction in which Glover wants to take his musical journey with the Grammy award winning single “This Is America” in 2018 and the Summer Pack release including “Feels Like Summer” and “Summertime Magic,” also released the same year. But the anticipation surrounding the next Childish Gambino project generated quite a bit of buzz when Glover announced on the “This Is America” Tour that this would be the final Childish Gambino tour and his next album would be the last Gambino album expressing in multiple interviews that he likes when things have endings. 

And up until a couple weeks ago, Glover’s camp of people have been relatively silent regarding any hints about a possible release date for this final album, until March 15th, 2020, when a mysterious url had been discovered entitled curating an endless stream of new music from the artist on the site. For the most part, Glover stays relatively quiet in the digital world and only comes around every blue moon when he has an upcoming project to promote, but this website that magically appeared received no love from any of his social media accounts. In fact, if you look at his Twitter or Instagram page, they are a complete blank slate with only a new profile picture of a bearded Donald Glover and his cropped-out kids. The stream of this new music was only up for a little while until the following week on March 21st did the album, 3.15.20, finally have a home on streaming services all across the net. 

Despite being a man of very few words, Glover has always seemed to have a pulse on society and has been able to critique the current times we are living in from afar. Especially during a time when an entire world has been ordered to self-isolate in order to stop the spread of a deadly disease, it seems that this surprise drop comes from a place of solace as Glover mentions some of the personal changes in his own life such as his father’s recent passing and Glover becoming a father of 2 himself. Perhaps the silent release of 3.15.20 demonstrates the manic state in which the world is currently in, and that there will always be ways to numb the pain with little distractions like music and art, mimicking a similar theme with the “This Is America” music video. 

Nevertheless, we have been graced with the gift of new music from Childish Gambino, and whether or not 3.15.20 is in fact the final album is still a complete mystery as Glover tends to gravitate towards being more mysterious rather than transparent. And upon first glance of the blank album art and song titles being timestamps in which the songs appear on the album, it seems that there are already more questions than answers even before pressing play. 

Right off the bat we get “0.00,” a very minimalist, ambient track with a hovering electric piano chord held throughout the duration of the song partnered with a reverb-drenched vocal refrain continually singing “We are, we are, we are.” Given the 3-minute run time, I would definitely say that “0.00” overstays its welcome just a bit. Especially given the context that this may potentially be the final Childish Gambino album, cushioning out the intro track with this much filler already feels like a disservice to the listening experience. It is not for certain as to how we as the listeners are supposed to interpret this track and what’s its true purpose is being placed at the forefront of 3.15.20, but personally, it leaves a rather sour taste in my mouth and wanting a little bit more to chew on right from the start. 

The first actual song is one of the few on this album with an actual title, “Algorhythm.” “Algorhythm” has a bumping, futuristic dance beat that sounds like it should have been in the Black Panther soundtrack. This track almost feels like a nod to the “Because the Internet” days, theme wise, tackling society’s addiction with technology from the first few lines, “What is the motivation? Constant communication.” The groove is heavy and gives this apocalyptic energy by saying how this is our last chance to enjoy life before the computers finally take over. The chorus samples the refrain from Zhane’s 1993 hit “Hey Mr. D.J.” telling “everybody, move your body.” I very much appreciate Gambino’s vocals throughout the verses almost sounding like a computer singing in this one-note low register. Now, if the album continued to explore and experiment with this futuristic demonic-dance sound, I would have been more than content. However, we steer a little bit off the path with the next track, “Time.”

Yet another track with an actual title, “Time” is a very stripped back pop song reminiscent of the 80’s with a chorus-heavy guitar and drum machine that does not mind taking it’s, lack of a better word, time. Standing at over 6-minutes with not much variant to the instrumental along the way besides the addition of some choir vocals towards the latter half of the track, the most interesting facet of the song is the faint Ariana Grande feature. And even her addition to the song seems a bit underutilized because the vocal effects make her sound like she’s singing underwater which is rather ironic when she sings the line, “my feet are falling to the bottom of the ocean.” If you happen to pay attention to the lyrics, there seems to be some existential themes that Gambino songs usually tend to gravitate towards, talking about how 7 billion people are trying to free themselves and how everyone is running out of time. I wouldn’t say this is a bad song, but the more I listen to it, the less interested I get with it. I would say that “Time” is a perfect song to throw on in the background of a small gathering of less than 10 people where most of the group is conversing and the music isn’t the main attraction. 

The next track we finally start seeing the time stamp titles which I find interesting because it almost requires the listener to avoid judging a song by its title and demands the music to speak for itself. “12.38” is another lengthy song with a simple beat taking more of a slick, slow-paced Pharrell type instrumental approach. On this track we get Gambino rapping which feels like it’s been ages since we’ve heard. However, he’s rapping in a different flow that reminds me of Playboi Carti or even back to the old-school Sick Boi nasally Gambino vocals with some falsetto runs sprinkled throughout. As far as content, “12.38” seems like a typical, braggadocious, sexy rap song that takes me back to the days when Childish Gambino would always say “swag” before any verse. Although “12.38” is another song pushing the 6-minute mark, I find myself enjoying this track a bit more because of how much bounce and charisma there is, especially with the 21 Savage feature towards the back half.

Moving on, we have the track “19:10” which is an upbeat, groovy dance track with a driving kick drum prominent throughout. The chorus is shimmery and silky with Gambino singing “to be beautiful is to be hunted” commenting on this idea of how no real situation can prepare one for any level of fame and how they deal with it. In his now famous Instagram hotel notes moment, Glover was crying out his struggles of being an artist living in a world where people demand constant content. It’s a never ending cycle, and many of the recurring themes that keep showing up in Gambino songs is how time is fleeting and nothing lasts forever implying that even fame is finite and has an expiration date. 

“24.19” is the longest track of the album sitting at 7:59 in length. This song is similar in style to Gambino’s 2016 hit single “Redbone” with a slow-paced R&B instrumental with Glover singing in a high-pitched filter. This is a very sweet, endearing song addressing a lover with the repetition of “sweet thing,” and questioning why this person still loves him even though he always makes them cry. The second part of the song rounds out very nicely when harps can be heard introducing the next phase of the song where Gambino repeatedly thanks the listener and says “I love you.” Whether directed towards the person the song is for or the audience listening to the album is definitely up for interpretation, but it does feel like a very gentle and gracious moment on 3.15.20

With “32.22,” we go back to stylings of “Algorythm” with another futuristic, aggressive banger that sounds like Gambino is running around a bonfire, chanting and getting ready for battle. The song is abrasive and in your face, and the lyrics, although difficult to comprehend because the effects and echo on the vocals contain a lot of imagery that alludes to fire, everything being bad, and warlords. This track almost takes a page out of the Yeezus handbook with the low-end synths, high-energy vocals, and overall, being an excellent song to mosh and get a little sweaty to. 

“35.31” is an upbeat more optimistic sounding track with a fun, even children sing-a-long type chorus that goes, “Little Foot, Big Foot, get out the way.” This sounds like a song Glover wanted to make for his kids to jump up and dance around to without necessarily needing to look too much into the lyrics. The funky, springy guitar is very pleasant on the ears and is an overall breezy, relaxing song, instrumentally. The irony of the instrumental being so uplifting is that the lyrics talk about a young boy trapping and making money by selling drugs. It reminds me of 50 Cent’s “Candy Shop” and how inappropriate that song was to be playing on the radio, but nonetheless, I remember knowing a majority of those lyrics when I was younger. 

“39.28” is unfortunately another head scratcher on the album. The entire song consists of stacked up layers of vocals from Gambino singing acapella the refrain of “Why go to the party?” in an almost “Bohemian Rhapsody” style harmony with not as big of a payoff. Gambino’s vocal effects sound like he’s trying to sing every other note but the autotune keeps dragging his voice back down to keep it in place. The song isn’t terrible. I do like the themes being commented on in this track like death and mortality, and the line “Grief is a standing ocean, I never swam unless you did.” That’s honestly a perfect line. But overall, this is a skip for me on the album. 

“42.26,” originally titled “Feels Like Summer” which dropped back in July 2018 is a laid-back, breezy, easy-to-listen-to summer song reminiscing a time when everyone wasn’t cooped up in their homes trying to avoid spreading an infectious disease. Although soothing on the ears, there’s hints of a technological apocalypse hidden throughout the song with lines like “men who made machines that want what they decide, parents tryna tell their children please slow down,” circling back to similar ideas previous songs have hit on. There’s also lines about bees dying and global warming painting this picture of a nice summer day while there’s absolute chaos happening all around. This is a very hopeless song wrapped up with a hopeful instrumental and I am all for the inclusion of this track on the album.

“47.48” is a song in the same vein of “Awaken, My Love!” entering the throwback soul, R&B genre with a funky bass and a clavinet piano reminiscent of a Stevie Wonder track. Gambino seems to be alluding to all these different acts of violence throughout the verses, but reassuring to the listener not to worry because “you’ll get through it.” This seems like a song directed towards Glover’s real-life children and reminding them of their worth in the world and to never give up hope. There is even a feature from Legend Glover, his son, on the tailend of the track where he’s asking his father, “do you love yourself?” It’s a very sweet and intimate moment on the album that lets us as the listener into a part of Glover’s world that is usually locked up tight. 

The final track of the album, and possibly the last Childish Gambino track ever is “53.49.” The track starts off with this aggressive vocal inflection that I haven’t heard in any previously recorded Gambino songs, but is equivalent to the energy in his live performances meshing genres of rock, R&B, and soul. The drums are heavy and funky as they give the listener one final dance before this entire journey is over. With the soulful chorus, “you do what you wanna do,” it sounds like Gambino is sending his fans off on a positive message and thanking them for all the years they shared connecting to his music. 

So for my final thoughts, I didn’t hate this album. However, there was never a point in my multiple listens of 3.15.20 that clicked for me in comparison to other Gambino projects. I can’t help but think of how Anthony Fantano gave Kendrick Lamar’s album To Pimp a Butterfly a 10/10 and then DAMN a 7/10. It’s difficult as an artist to continue creating your best work that resonates with all your fans when you’ve already created your best work, which I feel like before 3.15.20, Childish Gambino already has. There are moments that I enjoy on this album, but more often than not, there are times when I am left wanting more whether it’s from a production standpoint or simply just wanting more of a bang. Especially being a long-time fan of Childish Gambino, going into this album with the presumption that this is possibly the last time we will ever hear music from Donald Glover, I could not help but set the bar incredibly high only to have my expectations unmet. If 3.15.20 is simply a detour for an even grander conclusion to the Childish Gambino legacy, I will consider this a tiny speedbump to hurdle over. However, if this is the curtain call on Childish Gambino, then perhaps it’s best for Glover to let music take the backseat for a little bit and focus on other artistic ventures. I’m giving 3.15.20 6 blank album covers out of 10. 

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