Childish Gambino – Culdesac
Record Label: Unsigned
Release Date: July 3 2010
It was in the fall of 2009 that I had first heard of Donald Glover. I started watching a show on NBC called Community, which featured him playing the character Troy Barnes. He ended up being one of my favorite characters, but it wasn’t for a couple years that I knew Glover was doing plenty of other things in his spare time, such as comedy, writing, directing, and even rapping under the name Childish Gambino. I heard the song “Bonfire” from major label debut Camp and absolutely loved it, so before that record came out, I listened to his last mixtape, entitled Culdesac, which is what this review is about. I hadn’t listened to it very much in the last couple of years, but I figured I’d get more into it now, since I’ve been listening to a lot of his music lately, and he doesn’t have anything new out, aside from a couple singles. I’ll be totally honest when I say that Camp is one of my favorite albums, not only by him, but in general. It’s a wonderful record, and it’s held up fairly well over the last few years. While I don’t love Culdesac as much, it’s clear to see why people were all over Gambino when it came out. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a very solid mixtape, and for good reason. It’s a very unique record released at a time when hip-hop was starting to become watered down and rather boring. Gambino’s alternative-rock-esque beats combined with his clever lyrics and his monstrous flow made for a really interesting record.
The only problem with it is that his subject matter really doesn’t have much of a variation. On Camp, the same thing kind of happens, but there are a few more topics that are explored, such as racism, Gambino’s childhood, and a few other things. On Culdesac, the lyrics are still clever at plenty of times, but there aren’t too many subject matters being talked about on here, mainly just how awesome Gambino is (which you can’t really fault him for, because he is), and his relationship problems, or how much he loves or wants to be with someone. There are also a few songs that do mention or specifically talk about how “different” Gambino is, meaning how unique he is as a rapper, and how he’s not a typical rapper. The main song that really talks about this is intro track “Difference.” Some of the best songs, however, are songs where Gambino pretty much just brags about himself the whole time, such as second track “Hero” (which he paints himself as a hero to rap and to girls, essentially), third track “I Be On That,” sixth track “You Know Me,” seventh track “Let Me Dope You,” and a few others. The record is littered with tracks like these, and I don’t mind these kinds of tracks, because if done well, they can be very clever and enjoyable. Gambino certainly delivers on that front. He’s a very clever guy but makes his lyrics still easy to decipher. My favorite lyrics, however, are ones where he’s more honest. There are some tracks where he starts to break down his “walls,” so to speak. He does this a lot more on Camp, so if you really do enjoy his more “serious” lyrics, or “deeper” lyrics, there’s a lot of songs like that on Camp, but not enough to make it a dramatic record. There are a few songs that deal with more serious issues, but my favorite is eleventh track “F**k It All.” Basically, Gambino talks about how he knows he’s going to die, so he’s going to do all this crazy stuff before he dies, and he doesn’t care. There’s a really sad and rather disturbing part in the song where Gambino raps about how he misses his ex-girlfriend and how he doesn’t see why girls really like him, and sometimes, he wishes he would just end it all. It’s a really powerful thing to hear a rapper talk about something like suicide. It’s not a joking matter at all, but it’s something I’ve never really heard discussed in the hip-hop community, but even then, I’m not listening to enough, so I can only by what I have heard. Even then, in the “mainstream,” most serious topics aren’t discussed, so it’s still rather interesting to hear. This song just hits home for myself, not because I’ve ever been suicidal, but because I’ve always dealt with awful girls.
To balance that out, though, there are a few more “lighthearted” tracks that deal with relationships, and those three come in the form of fourth track “Got This Money,” fifth track “So Fly,” and eighth “Do Ya Like.” These songs are more of the poppier songs on the record, which is another thing that Gambino expands upon in Camp. These three tracks feature Gambino singing, and they’re pop/R&B tracks, which is rather unusual, because most rappers don’t sing, unless you’re Drake, then you always do. In fact, Gambino makes a reference to Drake in “You Know Me,” where he says, “I’m not trying to Drake numbers, I’m just trying to do my best.” Another little trivia fact: Drake’s last record Take Care came out the same day as Gambino’s last record Camp. These songs are unique just because they show a softer side of Gambino, where he doesn’t talk about how hates women and his problems with ex-girlfriends and other girls, but he actually tries to woo a woman in these tracks, and they’re really interesting. Granted, the lyrics are kinda silly, especially in “So Fly,” but Gambino tries his best and they’re enjoyable songs. They’re really catchy and it’s nice to see an artist expand a little bit on the record, which is exactly what Gambino does on this mixtape. If anything, this mixtape does hint at Gambino’s growth and potential as a rapper; it’s got its fair share of songs where he brags, and those tracks are great, but it is nice to see his softer side, too. I may not like this as much as Camp, but it’s still a great mixtape, either way.