500 Word Review: Childish Gambino “Awaken, My Love!”

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“Awaken, My Love!” is completely unexpected and original, but where did the rap go? This is Glover’s first attempt at a purely R&B album and somehow “Awaken” makes it sound like he’s had plenty of practice making them. How he satisfactorily produced this ambitious album after devoting his musical career to rapping is impressive. It is impossible to deny his multiple talents. I call this album ambitious because it is uncharted territory for Gambino. Yes, he tests out his singing voice a bit on “Kauai”, but he pushes his vocals to their limit on “Awaken” making frequent use of his falsetto. Even so, Glover demonstrates his versatility and while I was constantly anticipating his rapping, his singing did not take away from the album. Straying even further from his comfort zone, this album is full of funk, soul, and psychedelia creating a new and unfamiliar sound.

When “Me and Your Momma” kicks in, I was instantly reminded of the lazy yet precise drumming and stoned guitar of King Crimson so much that it sounded like a tribute to the band. Evidence of this influence shows up in other songs like “Boogieman” and “Zombies”. The vast, trippy production works well with this style, but the ceaseless reverb definitely gets old. Themes of love, loads of clapping, chanting, and church choir style background vocals give the album a Cristian tone that is out of place in an increasingly atheist world and rap scene. The chorus of “Have Some Love” sounds like a hymn sung around the fire at a summer Jesus camp. Peace culture and drugs certainly have a history together, but I’m not so sure the album’s psychedelia goes hand in hand with its soulful characteristics.

The album is an appropriate length, but there are still a couple of songs that it could do without. “California” is clunky and breaks up the album. Its distorted vocals are too much to comfortably listen to. “The Night Me and Your Momma Met” is just unneeded dead space wedged between two already mellow songs. This album may represent uncertainty of where to focus his talents for Glover, or his understanding that he is successful enough to artistically experiment wherever he wants. The absence of even a single rap verse on “Awaken” and his experimentation on “Kauai” raise the question of whether Gambino plans on changing genres permanently. Strangely enough he doesn’t seem to be any better or worse at the R&B trade than rapping, he’ll probably have a dedicated following either way he goes as long as he doesn’t decide to take a sharp turn again.

 

Score: 7/10

 

Album Review by Zachary Norton, March 2017

“Awaken, My Love!”:

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Classic Album Review: KANYE WEST My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

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It’s difficult to find an album with a bigger sound than Kanye West’s “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy”. Nevertheless, I find it disappointing that such grandiosity could only be achieved with a small army of producers and the sheer star power of other artists. For someone with such an egocentric persona, Kanye shares the spotlight generously with the likes of Jay-Z, Rick Ross, and Rihanna. This record is undeniably a great triumph in lyricism, rapping, and production.  It is a true model of success, but to say that such success belongs to Kanye alone would be untrue. This record would not have been an instant classic without the contributions of many others.

Kanye is undoubtedly a skilled producer and rapper. Had he kept the features on “MBDTF” to a minimum it would still have been a great success. Take “Yeezus” for example. A minimalist album with Kanye at center stage. “Yeezus” may be reactionary to the maximalist ideals of “MBDTF”, but I also like to consider it as what the previous release would have been without leaning on other talent. On the other hand, Kanye’s voice is not the most pleasant voice to listen to for an entire full length record. He does well to include so many features on “MBDTF”, giving us a break from the nasal oppression. He is to be thanked for keeping his singing at a minimum on this album, a lesson he no doubt learned after the volume of criticism of “808’s and Heartbreak”.

The featured artists do a great job of contributing to the album for the most part. Each Pusha T and Kid Cudi verse adds dynamic to the rap vocals, and the clean vocals are refreshing apart from Bon Iver. Although, Justin Vernon simply does not belong on this album.  He is out of place among other things, like Chris Rock’s skit in “Blame Game”, which is simply just boring and a waste of time. The sampling work, however, is brilliant. Kanye’s integration of progressive rock band, King Crimson, into “Power” was unexpected and seamless. The only homage the album could do without is the “Iron Man”-like progression in “Hell of a Life”.

“My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” is all about Kanye’s views of wealth, fame, and his façade. He handles the concepts well with smart, humorous, and accurate lyrics. The portrayal of his excessive persona is humbling and in good taste, but falls short of the impossible job of excusing his bravado. Relevant and interesting his philosophy may be, Kanye’s audacity inevitably ruins the possibility of anyone taking his ideas seriously. Rap may be accessible to a great many people, and it is easy to get behind “MBDTF’s” swaggering beats, but it is not the medium for deep thought. Kanye gave it his best to make this record about the consequences of fame and wealth, but he just comes across as another rapper flaunting his extravagant lifestyle. We get it Kanye, we know you have money, cars, women, and fame, are you running out of ideas?

 

Score: 8.9/10

 

Album Review by Zach Norton, January 2017

“My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy”: