Donald Glover has worn a lot of hats throughout his career — writer, actor, rapper, singer, director, comedian — so it is no real surprise that all of his Childish Gambino projects have also vastly differed in style. From the high-energy, fast-paced raps of Because the Internet, to his funky soul album “Awaken, My Love!”, Glover’s latest project, 3.15.20, is completely different from anything we’ve heard from him before. And it might be his best album yet.
Unlike his past albums, 3.15.20 doesn’t have any clear-cut singles that can be plucked out; songs like “Redbone”, “Telegraph Ave.” and “Heartbeat”, each took off as the most radio-ready songs from each of his first three albums (“Awkaken, My Love!”, Because the Internet and Camp, respectively).
“Time” is probably the best bet to do so off 3.15.20, due to the fact that it’s only one of two songs on the album to have a proper name, plus a feature from Ariana Grande always helps popularity. But I think that’s the whole point of this album, though, that people shouldn’t listen to individual songs, but rather the album as a collective. That’s my leading guess for why 10 out of the album’s 12 songs aren’t named, but given timestamps instead.
The album’s first song, “0.00” sets the tone for the unusualness of the album; it sounds like electric waves flowing over a heavily-echoed Glover. That leads into the pair of named songs, “Algorhythm”, which has been around for over a year now, as Glover has routinely added it to setlists during his “This Is America” tour. Glover and Grande shine on “Time”, as Grande’s voice adds a lot of value to the track without overpowering; it still feels like a very Gambino-ey song.
“Time” flows into “12.38”, as do most of the songs on this album. The outros to each song blend seamlessly to its successor, yet another hint that we’re supposed to listen to this from start to finish. Glover gets some help from 21 Savage on this track, whose mundane tone works really nicely here. That leads into “19.10”, which reminds me a bit of “Summertime Magic” from Glover’s 2018 pair of singles Summer Pack. It’s very repetitive, both lyrically and musically, but gives off an upbeat vibe with a catchy chorus.
“24.19” sounds like a more electric version of an “Awaken My Love!” song; lyrics like “sweet thing, you made me chicken, rice and beans, sweet thing” can’t help but bring me back to “my peanut butter chocolate cake with kool-aid” from “Redbone”. Food aside, even the delivery in which he sings the lines are similar. The song clocks in at eight minutes long, including a four minute outro, yet might be my favourite song off the album.
I’ve always preferred Childish Gambino the singer, the R&B artist, over Childish Gambino the rapper; while he is an incredibly talented rapper, I do think his true calling are these funky, contemporary R&B songs — one of my all-time favourite Gambino songs is “Stand Tall”, the final track on “Awaken, My Love!”, which acted as the perfect finale to his first full-length non-traditional “rap” album. I think “24.19” and 3.15.20 as a whole finalized his transition from a young insecure rapper to a truly mature musical artist.
The album continues with “32.22”, a dark, super distorted track that drew instant comparison to Kanye West’s Yeezus, and rightfully so. I wasn’t a particularly big fan of this song, it sounds like it belongs in a nightclub rather than my headphones, but was still the only miss of the album for me. Glover follows this with what is easily the most fun-sounding song of the album, “35.21”.
With a catchy chorus, plus clever lines like, “chicken coupe, chicken soup, I got the wave/move so smooth like butter like shea,” brought me back to all the wordplay and double-entendres from the Camp days.
“39.28” ends with the lyrics: “I call to a spirit, you may never hear it/How else could I keep you alive?/’Cause it’s hard for me to love myself without you here/’Cause the days are slow, but the years are fast/I wonder when I’ll feel your smile.” I can’t help but think this is Glover talking about his late father, who passed away while Glover was on tour in late 2018.
The familiar tune of “Feels Like Summer”, re-titled as “42.26” on this album, is followed by “47.48”, which includes a touching outro that features a heartwarming conversation between Glover and his son Legend, where Glover asks Legend what and who he loves, before Legend flips the script and asks his dad if he loves himself. It’s a very sweet part of the album and further elucidates Glover’s maturity. It’s crazy to go back and listen to Camp after this — this is the same guy who rapped, “I made the beat retarded so I’m calling it a slow jam” and “made the beat then murdered it, Casey Anthony” back in 2011.
The final song on the album, “53.49”, clocks in as my other favourite song on the album. It starts out quite intense, before Glover calmly transitions into the chorus: “there is love in every moment, under the sun, boy/I did what I wanted to/There is love in every moment, under the sun, boy/You do what you wanna do”. The outro is a beautiful combination of classic Gambino shrieks and ad-libs, background vocals, and more “do what you wanna do” lines.
Glover continues to finish strong, often saving the album’s best song for last, which does wonders when it comes to re-listening to this album — especially when you do so how he intended to, from start to finish.
3.15.20 definitely feels more like a ‘Donald Glover’ album than a ‘Childish Gambino’ one. Monikers aside, Glover’s music has matured just as he has. “Awaken, My Love!” was the start of it, and 3.15.20 has surely continued the transition. Unlike so many musical artists, Glover has only gotten better with age; I can only hope he continues to make music, because he’s damn good at it.