Childish Gambino - Royalty
Record Label: Self-Released
Release Date: July 4, 2012
Everyone has their reasons for liking Childish Gambino. He’s intelligent, transparent and seemingly open about everything that is his life. Royalty seems to do little to change that, but on the surface this mixtape feels like a completely different Donald Glover. That includes ridiculous guest spots on almost every track, a Britney Spears sample and arguably some of the hardest beats you thought you would never hear on a Gambino release. However, after several times through this mixtape and pretty much avoiding any talk about it – sans the hilarity of Tina Fey’s guesting on “Real Estate” – it is clear here that this is what Gambino needed to drop in order to move to the next level. And to be truly honest, if this mix of ‘hood’ and ‘not hood’ is what we can expect from him in the future – I’m completely fine with that.
Gambino and a practical who’s who of buzzing underground rappers and well-respected emcees fuse hard-up beats and indie-tinged instrumentals throughout a very two-faced mixtape. Sometimes, Glover goes hard over mystical beats (“Arrangement”, “Black Faces”) with a much more active flow that helps support an idea that perhaps he’s trying to be much more than a punchline rapper – especially considering he flat out says that’s what he’s trying to do on “We Ain’t Them”. It might be pointless to try and suggest, but solely sticking to his Camp style of buildup and delivery just wasn’t going to meld well with the likes of Danny Brown, Ghostface Killah or Bun B – but Royalty shows that the shift doesn’t completely drop Gambino’s pop-cultured style (“One Up”) in the process of tweaking his penmanship a bit.
It’s easily noted that this is not the autobiographical album that many considered Camp to be. I mean, it probably is, but minus most of the animated references and joke-tinged lines that made Gambino a make or break with most. But making not-so-subtle references sex, drugs and incarnations of alcohol certainly sound much more fitting in this theatre, a sound that certainly would not support stories such as “Firefly” or “Kids” – it only raises the issue that the very vulnerable stories presented throughout much of Camp now seem extremely foreign to what is heard here. Sure, he hints at sleeping with roaches and feeling a little guilty about the money, but to then hear him say he quit drinking – for the most part – in “Shoulda Known” presents an interesting juxtaposition as to the sincerity or notion of his stories elsewhere on this tape.
It is as simple as this though – if you’re very much about the nerdy references and less-rap sounding beats and samples, Royalty will probably be a difficult pill to swallow.
The Camp mindset isn’t completely gone from this mixtape though, both instrumentally and lyrically. “We Ain’t Them” starts the mill with a very inward sparked lyrical attack while boasting a much more low-key melody bolstered by toms and a nice bass kick. If you were expecting this to be any sort of continuation of Camp, this track is one of several that carries over a similar instrumental vibe (“Silk Pillow”, “It May Be Glamour Life”) in terms of not really falling into often darker lyrics and grimy beats heard through a better chunk of Royalty.
Personally though, “You See Me” off of Camp made me want to hear Gambino make a harder record, something there is no shortage of here. Whether it’s often bass heavy “Unnecessary” or the haunting melody of “Real Estate”, Gambino’s producers, including Boi-1da, Skywlkr, and more often than not, himself, made what could be argued as the right move to match the more braggart, rising-star side of Glover. The diversity of Royalty gives us such tracks like the humming “Make It Go Right” or the piano-laced, Beck spotted dazzler “Silk Pillow”, but enjoyable in their own right, they seem to be living in the shadows of the bangers a bit – more dividers or placeholders to keep this from being completely overwhelmed with hi-hat blitzes and thundering bass.
Royalty might not dictate his future creations, but the rough and tumble beats and much less punchline-glazed lyricism make this mixtape a worthwhile experience both for creator and listener. Royalty doesn’t quite match the sincerity and unique nature of Camp, but for what it’s worth, this is more hit than miss in terms of bangers and pristine guest spots to make a solid next step in the budding career Glover has created in the rap game.
Decent review, although I don't agree that this is a less sincere effort because I feel like he embellished a lot of his insecurities in Camp, like how he didn't even write the story at the end of "That Power"
I enjoyed the tracks he released online before ROYALTY came out (tracks 2-7 on the album I think) much more than the rest of the tape. I don't think this will have as much replayability as his EP (or Camp, or Culdesac) has for me personally, but I'm glad to see he's pushing his comfort zone a bit.