MONM 2011 Day 11: Childish Gambino’s Camp

Childish Gambino – Camp (2011, Glassnote Records)

The rumours are already floating about a mid-season cancellation for Community, so the timing is pretty much perfect for Donald Glover to launch a hip hop career, and the odds are good that Camp will accomplish just that. Like the mixtapes that precede it, Camp is spotty but mostly enjoyable, with Glover’s energy and personality making up for the more-than-occasional moments of weakness.

With the exception of the clunky “You See Me,” Camp’s production is largely an improvement over last year’s EP, itself a huge leap over Gambino’s earlier releases. String-heavy bombast is the standard mode, but there’s still plenty of variety to be found in the electro backdrop of “Heartbeat,” the minimal clang of “Backpackers” and the nursery rhyme jangle that opens “Kids (Keep Up).” It’s a strong effort on the whole, even if the hooks tend to be the weakest parts (Glover’s no Drake as far as sneaking R&B smoothness into the chorus).

If there’s a particular weak spot, though, it’d be Glover’s ego tripping. As with EP, a sizable chunk of Camp is dedicated to Glover talking about how awesome he is and how the ladies can’t get enough of him (probably justifiable, all things considered). And as with EP, those chunks are grating and unnervingly misogynist as often as not – for a guy who has written punchlines for a living, Glover doesn’t land nearly as many of them as you’d expect. He actually tries to deflect that criticism throughout, referring to himself as “Mr. Talk-About-His-Dick-Again” and pointing out that he knows how dumb it can sound, but self-awareness doesn’t make a criticism less true. Instead, Camp is at its best when Glover drops the boasting to explore the pain and confusion that comes from being a perpetual outsider, and how that fits with his current celebrity status. That may not be altogether new territory, but he does it with real wit and insight. It can get heavy at times – the closing monologue, which doubles as an origin story, lays it on a little thick – but it sure feels a lot less put on than the macho posturing.

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