The Georgia Theatre, located in a mecca of modern music, Athens, Ga., has seen legendary acts such as The Police and R.E.M. grace its stage, and it’s recovered from a fire that almost cost the city its landmark. But, on Oct. 7, it was blessed with an artist unlike any that had walked through its doors before. The Sign Up tour made its way to Athens that night, and by the end of the third verse of “You See Me,” the crowd started to get a glimpse of what exactly it was they were signing up for: Camp.
A little more than a month after Donald Glover’s alter ego, Childish Gambino, almost ignited another fire in the theatre, he released the most unique piece of art to come out of the genre in ages. In short, it’s modern-day Shakespeare. It’s a 13-track concept album full of 13 singular pieces. The listener is able to watch Glover grow up before their ears as he exceptionally blends nostalgic references from his childhood (“… playing with this Land Before Time toy from Pizza Hut,” “I said I want a Full House, they said, ‘You got it, dude’”) with braggadocios tales (“Why does every black actor gotta rap some? I don’t know, all I know is I’m the best one”) and heartfelt heartbreak (“I’m a ghost and you know this, that’s why we broke up in the first place,” “So we’re done? This the real shit? We used to hold hands like field trips!”).
Using the metaphor of a summer’s worth of camp, he’s able to therapeutically address issues he had to deal with at an early age, such as his parents working three jobs so that they could send him to a private school for a better education only to be made fun of relentlessly for not being black enough by blacks yet fitting the black mold perfectly by whites. Glover forces the listener to examine the world that we live in with a microscope, except they might be too busy getting lost in the beat.
The production (predominantly from him and bandmate Ludwig) is a huge step up from his previous Internet-only releases and is exceptional in its own right. But, the music only provides a backdrop for Glover’s lyrical assault. “Bonfire” is the best Lil’ Wayne song that isn’t performed by Wayne. Where Weezy lacks in trying to lump together half-assed metaphors, Glover shines (“Put my soul on the track like shoes did,” “Made the beat then murdered it … Casey Anthony”). “Backpackers” might feature the hardest bars to ever come from a dude that lived in Williamsburg, giving the middle finger to haters in a self-deprecating way, all while intertwining a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reference. From choir packed choruses (“Sunrise”) to verses with a laid-back, early 1990s West Coast feel (“Fire Fly”) the variation is almost as seamless as the content.
Glover holds nothing back on his first major release, and the results are phenomenal. He ends “That Power,” and the album, with a spoken story, about why he’s that open with his audience. “So I learned, cut out the middle man, make it all for everybody, always,” he says after talking about a girl misusing his trust. He’s grown up, while still holding onto the aspects of his youth that made him who is today. “The truth is I got on the bus a boy, and I never got off the bus. … I still haven’t.” Here’s hoping he never does.
Childish Gambino – Camp tracklist:
- “Fire Fly”
- “All the Shine”
- “Letter Home”
- “Hold You Down”
- “You See Me”
- “That Power”