Childish Gambino has always been a character first. He's another alias with attributed lines and a carefully constructed personality that Donald Glover has added to his lengthy artistic resume as an actor and screenwriter. The name was initially produced from a Wu-Tang name generator, after all. And through past projects like 2011's Camp and 2013's Because The Internet, Donald used the constructed rap identity to deliver commentary about his seemingly recluse place as a privileged creative in a culture attributed to the essential come-up. But in the three years since Glover released his expansive social media-savvy sophomore release, the political and musical landscape has changed. So has Donald's personal and professional life. And in turn, so has his character. In an oddly shocking way, Childish Gambino executed his radical rise.
There's no room for self-important commentary in a world that narrowly survived a Trump election, Brexit, Orlando shooting, the murder of Philando Castile and Keith Lamont Scott, the normalization of the alt-right and a vast amount of other daily horrors. Not in the minds of those focused on the realities of their current dystopia, anyhow. In the face of 2016, Donald Glover has abandoned his former bumptious narrative and the confident nerd-rap he was once linked to for a vulnerable Funkadelic-inspired take on navigating his fears and romantic musings as a father, lover and friend amidst the times, on his new funk-filled opus, Awaken, My Love!
"There's something about that '70s black music that felt like they were trying to start a revolution," Donald stated in an interview with Billboard, ahead of the release of this third studio album. And that's precisely where the inspirations rise from in droves, from the deeply soulful prog-driven instrumentation of George Clinton's Parliament-Funkadelic to the vocal power of Sly & The Family Stone to the sprawling bass-driven textures and blatant charisma of Bootsy Collins. Even the cover is likened to Funkadelic's 1971 instant classic, Maggot Brain. Fused together with his own modern anecdotes, and frenzied production by longtime collaborator Ludwig Göransson, Glover has delivered an inter-generational, retro-futuristic 11-track history lesson on the healing and inspiring qualities of funk. He's resurfaced musically, abandoned his former post, to cite a more urgent medium for his most personal and mature message yet. It may be his greatest shot at character development - where cheeky bars have been replaced with unrequited screams and soulful pleas.
"Stay woke," he sings on album stand-out 'Redbone' in a soaring falsetto. "Now, don't close your eyes." It's a self-reflective request that not only sums up Glover's entire creative transformation (from comedic actor to impressive artist) but also references the mentality of a generation growing up and coming into their belief systems in an urgent social time. Because the internet, so many millennials have recently found their voice within the muddled political narrative, consciously replacing troll-worthy memes with Black Lives Matter hashtags on their busy timelines. And despite blow after blow at the hands of triggering headlines and a powerful conservative agenda this past year, Glover's project is the intersectional reminder that, now that we're aware of what's going on, we can't ignore it.
In the months and years to come, Donald Glover will surely take a leave of absence from his stint as Childish Gambino, and onto new roles – particularly Earnest Marks in the second season of his critically acclaimed FX comedy Atlanta and as young Lando Calrissian in the next installment of the Star Wars saga. But Awaken, My Love! in all its spacey, psychedelic and bittersweet layers, is a year-end cue. As we transition out of the most tumultuous year in recent memory, the same exact issues are plagued to follow us, if we don't embrace our own variations of revolution. For Donald Glover, his channel just happened to be funk.