Words About Music
Childish Gambino “STN MTN/Kauai”
I’m probably one of the most unashamed Gambino fans you’ll ever meet. While I’m prone to pretty much ignore his cringe-worthy back catalog (back when he was much more of a punchline rapper), I’m a considerable fan of his work from his 2010 mixtape “Culdesac” to the present day. Since then, we’ve seen quite an evolution. His 2011 debut album “Camp” was poorly received, but I still enjoy it. It’s a fun record that borders on overly-serious, and it really does show a crisis of consciousness and a present shift in Gambino’s songs. Does he want to be a joke rapper, which the song “Bonfire” implies? Does he want to be the next Drake, which “All the Shine” implies? Or does he want to be a take-me-serious rapper, which the maligned closing track “That Power” implies? “Camp” is a confusing album, in hindsight, but one I still remember fondly as a jumbled album with some great tracks of high variance. The world has seen Donald Glover as a writer for 30 Rock, actor on Community and Girls, burgeoning YouTube sketch comic, bonafide Comedy Central comic, and critically polarizing rapper. Let’s take a look at where all that’s gotten him.
Last year, Gambino really came into his own with his sophomore album “Because the Internet,” an astonishing and surprisingly experimental and conceptual album that solidified him as an “artiste.” The critics still weren’t convinced, but I was. Along with his 70-page script that tied some of the album’s themes together, the media game was saturated with Bino. Hot on the heels of this album is yet another conceptual project, “STN MTN/Kauai.”
“STN MTN” is the mixtape half of this project, which basically takes place in a dream where Gambino runs Atlanta, which is where he calls home (he was born in Stone Mountain, which is how you pronounce the mixtape’s title). These 11 tracks definitely possess the dreamlike quality that was evident on “Because the Internet,” but in a different way. To sum it up, “STN MTN” is a Gangsta Grillz mixtape hosted by DJ Drama, which, if you know anything about mixtape culture, means it’s sort of a big deal. So for the first 11 tracks of this affair, you’ve got Gambino rapping over an interesting set of beats from several different producers, along with DJ Drama screaming over a good portion of them. Many of these songs feature one or two beat switches as they transition into different songs, which definitely makes the dreamlike quality more present.
The mixtape ends with Gambino saying “and then I woke up,” which brings us into the 7-track EP that is “Kauai,” named after the Hawaiian island where he’s spent quite a bit of time, apparently. In an interesting turn, the part of The Boy from his “Because the Internet” script is being played by actor/rapper/philosopher/Scientologist Jaden Smith. What better way to please the critics, right? Anyway, “Kauai” begins on a fairly strong note. I actually enjoy most of this EP, but the ending sort of feels bland to me. “Late Night in Kauai” and the alternate version of “3005” feel like they’re there to fill space. And as much as I want to believe that Jaden is the next big thing, he doesn’t really do anything on this EP that necessitates his presence.
Overall, “STN MTN” and “Kauai” make up one conceptual project that makes sense to me, and it features a bunch of songs that I like, but it doesn’t jive with me as a whole. I feel like if he spent more time on the actual quality of the songs rather than relying on the whole “Oh, I’m just playing a character, the songs are dumb on purpose” thing, then this project would be a lot more interesting. There’s really good tracks on here, but there’s also ones that feel like they weren’t good enough to go on “Because the Internet” so he threw them on here with little caution.
SCORE – 5.6
FAVORITE TRACKS – Fucks Given, Money Baby, Move that Dope, AssShots Remix, U Don’t Have to Call, Candler Road, Go DJ, Sober, Retro (Rough), The Palisades, Poke