REVIEW: Childish Gambino – Camp


Artist: Childish Gambino
Album: Camp
Genre: Hip Hop/Rap
Label: Glassnote

2011 has undeniably been the year of Childish Gambino, but few realize the hip hop side project of Community‘s Donald Glover has actually been rising through the ranks since 2008. Like any artist, Glover experienced his fair share of growing pains, both in terms of weak beats and lyrics, but kept at it and developed to a point that was exactly what the industry needed (when it finally caught wind of his effort). Now, capping off a year that began with a free mixtape few have been able to stop spinning or discussing, Gambino gives us his debut album for Glassnote Records and proves once and for all, the game has changed.

Kicking things off with “Outside,” Camp wastes little time bringing you into the deeply layered world of Gambino with a subtle introduction that grows to a thunderous, crowd-roaring chant accompanied by the arrival of introspective lyrics that challenge the most touching of singer-songwriters. Clearly not intended for the radio, “Outside” succeeds because it manages to feel both intimate and mainstream at once. It’s a unique way to approach not only lyrics, but beats and fan connection as well and it reverberates throughout much of the album.

“Fire Fly” and “Bonfire” do great job of bringing heavy amounts of energy to the record. Where “Fire” feels intended for Summer cruises down the highway, “Bonfire” brings a much stronger sense of urgency that’s likely to make you go crazy from excitement. This upbeat mood is short-live however, as “All That Shine” gives the record a much more serious vibe, blending the simplest of kick/snare beats with mesmerizing keys and handclaps as Gambino pours his heart out about frustrations within his own life. If a rapper could “croon,” this would be it. Dramatic, passionate, and wrought with inner-turmoil, yet commercial enough to work as a single if desired.

By the time Camp reaches the halfway point, all pre-conceived notions of what Gambino would bring to the table are pretty much void. From his insanely personal lyrics, to the live instrumentation, each track pushes the listener to try new concepts and sounds that if nothing else help keep things interesting. “Backpack” uses a minimalist beat to allow Gambino to deliver some of his most vicious lines while addressing labels and the way his so-called “niche markets” view him. Race is played as a heavy card here, with multiple reference to hate on Gambino from both sides of the fence, but it’s more likely you’ll take away a story of perseverance from the track than anything close to “woe, is me.”

Without giving too much away about Camp let me say that almost nothing you’ve heard before can prepare you for this record’s final three tracks. Bringing together three distinct styles of hip hop and lyricism, each one paints Gambino in a new light and showcases his seemingly endless range. “You See Me” bangs with the bass-heavy hits you’d expect to find on Tha Carter 2, while “Sunrise” feels designed by Kanye after he spent way too much time enjoying Outkast’s Stankonia, and “That Power” simply stands alone. Clocking in at nearly 8 minutes in length, “Power” closes Camp with Gambino’s biggest verses and a lengthy spoken word segment that ties the entire experience of the album together quite nicely. Unexpected, but welcomed with open arms.

Many times, celebrities looking for crossover appeal have a hard time separating themselves from the image society already has of them, but not Gambino. Camp is a stand alone effort that surely continues to display ever-evolving growth, but also give you a completely a new side of an artist that millions are already familiar with. Not looking for radio play or cred in the scene, Camp is one of the most personal albums I’ve heard in my entire life and has the advantage of being accompanied by dance-ready beats created from live instrumentation. You could say it’s an organic record, but that would make it seem simple. Camp is the result of hard, hard work and no one can deny the impact time and effort had on the outcome. Find this record, no, find three copies of this record and buy them all as soon as you can. Keep one for yourself and give the other two to people who need to remember the power music can possess.

Score: 9.5/10
Review written by: James Shotwell (Follow him on Twitter)

Still not sold? Click below to view the official video for “Bonfire”:

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the founder of Under The Gun Review. He loves writing about music and movies almost as much as he loves his two fat cats. He's also the co-founder of Antique Records and the Marketing Coordinator for Haulix. You should probably follow him on Twitter.

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  • Anonymous

    How did you get the album already? It’s not even leaked.

  • Nate Anderson

    Cant wait to see what Gambino has coming next!
    Bonfire –

  • kevO

    npr has it for stream

  • great review. great fucking album. i think it should be noted what a fantastic job DJ Sosupersam did on the instrumentals. Her composer roots really separate these songs from say, a generic Cole beat. 

  • Perks of being an entertainment journalist.

  • I love Childish Gambino! NPR has been streaming the entire album this week. It’s sooo good. I’m totally getting it 11/15.

  • Peter Murphy

    wow. Legendary review. Spot on. @Peter_Murphy:twitter

  • janae

    i really like this video, its different than what we usually see in hip hop. i feel like i enjoy it more since i’ve checked out, you def get a feel of his creativity & personality.