More than a few years into the rap game, Childish Gambino aka Donald Glover still has a lot to prove to all his haters. He’s constantly had to legitimize his rap career, gaining his initial fame from writing and acting in the comedy community (pun intended). He has a unique style comprised of a double edged sword that is his ability to humanize himself and admit his faults, making him more relatable for his listeners but knocks himself down a few pegs from the untouchable pedestal most rappers thrive on. Sometimes it works and sometimes it’s plain annoying. On Royalty, what does work, is the production (more than half of it done by Gambino) and the clever metaphors your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper would respect. On the first listen, you may only hear the major themes of relationship problems, his beef with the 1% in society, and lines about current events (zombie attacks and petty fights between Hip Hop artists), but beneath all that is the self realization of a rapper’s maturation.
Childish has always been rapping about women. But now he’s more focused on stunting, in general. “Arrangement” is a perfect example. Childish is above the average man’s problems with women because he’s living in a “Kennedy compound/My 20 room house/So big my ex girls ain’t gotta move out” with a “bank account looking like when little kids break shit/Ooo.” But all the riches haven’t made him ignorant because even though he’s a “world star/ I ain’t have to have a nigga moment.” My favorite track on the mixtape, “American Royalty,” contains the lines, “Pack them crowds up/ Boss like Bowser/Deep pocket poetry, my custom trousers/Thank God they found us,” showcasing Gambino’s improvement on his flow. Then on the filthy flip of Britney Spear’s “Toxic” by SKYWLKR, we get a bit more of Gambino’s, now solid, rapid fire flow. In slightly hipster fashion, Childish admits he “used to rap about nothing/Now I rap about nothing” (“Silk Pillow”). He could be pointing out how critics can judge his material, but he knows no one else is doing it like him.
One thing new is his
embracing constant reminding us of his Georgia roots. Whether it’s to validate the trap beats he’s spitting over (“Real Estate”) or lines like “Used to sport them Filas/cause my cousin packed them heaters/We don’t wife ‘em like Khalifa/We just party then we leave ‘em” (“Unnecessary”), I can’t seem to get it off my mind now that Gambino is from Georgia and I can’t forget it.
Childish Gambino has his insecurities under wraps now, at least on Royalty. He drops one line on “Won’t Stop” about being an “airport atheist” and only “stressin’ over this nervous shit.” But the line evokes more empathy than pity. Childish Gambino is done whining to have his voice heard. He has his stake in the game and is going to fight to preserve it.
3.5 / 5 bars
“American Royalty” ft. RZA and Hypnotic Brass Orchestra – Childish Gambino
“Arrangement” ft. Gonage – Childish Gambino