Tuesday, September 3, 2013

"Camp," Childish Gambino (HHES Review)

Here's my review of the Childish Gambino album "Camp," using the Hip Hop Evaluation System (HHES).

"Outside" is a strange way to start out the album. It's not a bad song, far from it, it's just not the typical song to start off a hip hop album, particularly one by a popular actor. It's a deeply introspective track where Gambino talks about peeing his pants in school as a kid. I like how revealing he is, but this seems more like a end-of-the-album track, not the lead.

"Fire Fly" is a great song, and yet still sounds a bit off in the sequence. The hook and the guest vocals here are both great and this song really goes into Gambino's ability to provide masterful wordplay and great references. The backing track is also pretty great as well.

"Bonfire" is the song that got me into Gambino in the first place. It really is just simply one of the hardest banging tracks by any artist in the last decade. Both musically and lyrically it is quite ahead of most of what's being produced these days. It's pure nerdcore, but at the same time it's a hard song that any rapper who respects talent would have to appreciate. And, as "street" and "gangsta" as other MCs are, there are few lines in any song delivered any way that hit harder than the "human centipede" and "Casey Anthony" lines in this song.

"All the Shine" is a pretty awesome track as well, opening up about Gambino's music career and the trials and tribulations he's faced based on his style of rap. Very good flow, revealing lyrics, a good backing track. Not much to complain about.

"Letter Home" is a brief aside that gives a pretty good look into Gambino's heart, once again showing that he has a way of approaching lyrics that a lot of other rappers don't. This isn't groundbreaking, but it's another snippet of information that reveals the bigger picture of Childish Gambino.

"Heartbeat" is one of the few rap songs about relationships that isn't a ballad and totally works on every level. Gambino sings a pretty powerful hook that it's hard not to get addicted to. On top of that, the lyrics describe a relationship that is complicated and unsimilar to any other depicted in any song I'm aware of. Pretty much like Gambino himself.

"Backpackers" isn't the best song on the album, but it continues things well enough to sustain the momentum that peaked with "Heart Beat." Another song taking on critics of his music/personality, it is worth a few listens.

"L.E.S." is the first drag on the album. Up to this point, things are mostly upbeat and fast-paced and this not only doesn't fit that, it seems to slow the momentum the album had up to this point.

"Hold You Down" is the second track in a row that doesn't quite match up to the earlier tracks. It's not bad, but it does seem to be getting a bit repetitive at this point. Lyrically, it's impressive, but the sound just doesn't transcend.

"Kids" helps get things back on track with one of the better beats on the album. Gambino's imperfect singing makes the hook more original and catchy than it might otherwise be.

"You See Me" really brings things back with the best beat on the album and some of Gambino's best wordplay and flow. The song is very technically difficult and switches styles frequently enough to catch just about anyone's attention, even if its racial and gender politics is awkward at best.

"Sunrise" is a fun song that has some great lyrics and wordplay in the verses, but probably could've done with a better hook and maybe a loss of some of the jarring backing vocals.

"That Power" is an interesting end to the album, with a initial track that is pretty similar to a number of other tracks on the album, but continuing well past that "song" into a lengthy monologue from Gambino that is loaded with his personality and entertaining, showing that Gambino is a good storyteller.

Overall Analysis

Flow: 10. I love the way Gambino flows. He's probably my favorite rapper right now in terms of the way words come out of his mouth.

Lyrics: 9. Gambino does have a mysterious problem with slipping into stale misogynistic lines from time to time that show a laziness that he doesn't show anywhere else. If it weren't for that, this album would be perfect from a lyrical standpoint.

Message: 9. This album is really about Gambino's personality and the things that make him tic. In that vein, it's pretty amazing. I get a really good feel for the person these lyrics are about.

Technical: 10. Gambino really is trying to do something with the way he raps and he succeeds almost all the time.

Production: 8. It's hard to complain about any of the sounds on this album. They aren't all perfect, but they are close enough to stand up to repeated listens.

Versatility: 7. While there isn't a ton of versatility from song to song, there is so much within the individual songs that

Collaborators: 7. There really aren't too many besides producers. This makes a lot of sense in context, though, since the album is deeply personal and since everyone else does so many songs with guests, he's making a bit of a statement by not having anybody dilute his personal story.

History: 6. Not a lot of history is very obvious here, but there are quire a few pop culture references and some other nods towards what came before.

References: 10. Gambino makes a lot of current and clever references that are both hilarious and powerful.

Originality: 10. If anything else like this exists, I'm not aware of it.0

Total Score: 86. This album is loaded with potential and in quite a few places, it more than exceeds that potential. Gambino is a rapper to watch.

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