REVIEW: Childish Gambino – ‘STN MTN / KAUAI’


Artist: Childish Gambino
Label: Glassnote Records
Genre: Hip-Hop, R&B

With a surprise drop, and a complex new concept, Childish Gambino presents his followup to Because The Internet in STN MTN / KAUAI. The album–or should we say albums–are part of a double release of which half was provided for free download by Gambino himself, and the second is currently available for stream or purchase with proceeds going towards several causes for the people of Kauai, HI.

In the past, some have accused Gambino of being an imitator, suggesting his sound is borrowed from other well-known rappers. While some noted similarities between his music and that of Drake’s, or how songs like “Bonfire” are comparable to Lil Wayne’s “A Milli.” In recent history however, his stylistic tendencies have shifted towards a modern Kanye West/Kendrick Lamar mashup with an occasional Frank Ocean sound. This style has continued from Because The Internet, straight into STN MTN / KAUAI.

STN MTN (Pronounced “Stone Mountain”) is a Gangsta Grillz mixtape highlighting Gambino’s Atlanta roots. The mixtape was offered for free download just last week, without warning. KAUAI on the other hand is a softer synth-based EP which features Gambino’s more soulful tracks and is pretty light on the rapping. The combination of the two releases create a concept album in which the singer dreams of being a Georgia rap star before waking up on the island of Kauai.

In STN MTN‘s opening track “Dream / Southern Hospitality / Partna Dem,” Gambino starts out with a short monologue about a daydream that leads into a commanding two-part gangsta rap song. As we saw in his previous release, Gambino’s album is rich with texture including ambient sound effects and short spoken passages that help to tell the overall story of the two-part release; something like you might find in a Pink Floyd album. It’s all part of an experience that helps pull you into the album as a listener, and an element that shows Gambino really wants listeners to dive all the way in. As we’ve seen before, he also manages to work in tons of obscure or esoteric references and jokes as well. Oh yeah, and then there’s the secret track that was discovered by a Redditor and later confirmed by Gambino himself.

While certain parts of the album feel well thought out, others still feel rushed and thrown together. Take for example the hook he sings on the second half of “Candler Road.” Gambino gives listeners a little scat section that has a charming melody but specifically notes that he hasn’t worked it out yet. In the end of the very same song he even sings “I don’t have words for this part, but I know it should sound like this…”

Despite these moments, both albums still feel rich in his unusual, complex style which, like an episode of 30 Rock, takes several passes to fully appreciate. The STN MTN mixtape is also stacked with some of heaviest beats we’ve ever seen Gambino go in on. The album combines epic sounding synth parts that are full of intricate melodies and samples- all of which are complemented by the wide array of vocal styles with which Gambino attacks the tracks. The impressive intensity and versatility of the two records are definitely a highlight of the entire release. As was the case with 2012’s Royalty mixtape, Gambino makes sure that his samples are topical, and so complex that you often forget it’s a mixtape at all. As for the EP, fans of the song “Heartbeat” from 2011’s Camp are bound to enjoy its futuristic backing tracks and smooth vocals.

While I’ve certainly enjoyed most of the two-part release, I don’t know that it will be a frequent revisit for me. This is because after several listens the stranger elements tend to get on your nerves rather than set the mood, especially a skit performed in the same outrageous stylings as a monster truck event. This tiring element is only topped by the long spoken segments delivered by actor Jaden Smith throughout the KAUAI EP. Overall, the STN MTN / KAUAI mixtape/EP will impress you for a number of passes- just don’t expect it to be Childish Gambino’s most critically acclaimed release.

SCORE: 7/10
Review written by Scott Murray

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