Monday, January 13, 2014

"Because the Internet," by Childish Gambino (HHES Review)

Here's my review of the Childish Gambino album "Because the Internet," using the Hip Hop Evaluation System (HHES). "The Library (Intro)" is an interesting five seconds, but not sure it deserves a track listing.

"crawl" is amazing. Amazing hook, outstanding rapping from Childish, and a lot of interesting sonic experiments that all seem to work.

"Worldstar" has a very interesting song structure. It's not quite as successful as "crawl," but still works pretty well, particularly when Gambino is rapping. The structure interrupts his flow though in a way that makes it less effective, I think.

"dial up" is apparently part of the soundtrack for the visual version of this concept album. Separate from that visual, I'm not sure how well it works.

"the worst guys" has a mildly interesting hook from Chance the Rapper and Childish, that surrounds more top-notch rapping from Childish.

"shadows" begins a series of songs on the album that, while they have some interesting ideas and some technically solid rapping, they don't amount to solid songs independent of the on-going story cycle on the album. Both "shadows" and "telegraph ave." fail to stand alone as great songs, although the latter is a solid song on its own.

"sweatpants" breaks the cycle, though, and is a solid song regardless of the album's story. The song features several things that make Gambino one of the best rappers in the game: a great sense of humor, strong technical skills, an encyclopedic knowledge of pop and Internet culture. And it keeps up the experimental nature of much of the album and here it all succeeds.

"3005" is not only the centerpiece of the album in terms of quality and songwriting. It's a perfect song and moreso than any other song on the album, it reflects Childish's recent trend of introspection and reflects his inescurities and questioning of the way people act and react to him. The more airplay a song like this gets, the better a place the world will be.

"playing around before the party starts" is an interesting piece of music, but again, I'm not sure it works independent of the film it's supposed to be a part of.

"the party" is awesome, though. Again, really strong vocals from Childish, leading into one of the best jokes on the album and a great addition to the character that the album revolves around. I also love the lyrically creativity here, there's a line where Childish has an obvious opportunity to rhyme party with Bacardi, but decides to use vodka instead, which works really, really well.

"no exist" has a great division to it, between the somewhat upbeat, poppy hook, and the menace of the beat and Childish's delivery. Very effective development of the continuing concept/story of the album.

"death by numbers" apparently connected to the main character of the album attempting suicide. But I don't get that at all from the track, either lyrically (there are only a handful of words here), or sonically.

"flight of the navigator" returns to the cycle that began with "shadows." It's more introspective and experimental, but that doesn't necessarily mean the song is that great. The rest of the album continues in this vein, which means that it isn't as strong as the earlier portions. That being said, it's still stronger than most of what's on the radio.

"zealots of stockholm," "urn," "pink toes," and "earth: the oldest computer" continue the introspective/experimental cycle, so much so that they don't seem to be particularly distinct songs, particularly because they are so focused on similar themes. Some guest appearances from talented women come in here, but they seem to get lost in the shuffle.

"life: the biggest troll" steps it back up a little bit to end the album on a strong note. It's not the best song on the album, but it's better the five songs preceeding it, it's just harder to get through those songs to get to it.

Overall Analysis

Flow: 10. Gambino has one of the most diverse and interesting flows of any rapper in the business. All of that is on ample display here.

Lyrics: 10. These are some of the most thoughtful and introspective lyrics on any album I've heard in years. And they're still loaded with good poetry, good jokes and good wordplay.

Message: 10. This is a message album. Gambino has a lot of thoughts about life, death, love, friendship, fame, the Internet, etc. He doesn't necessarily have all the answers, but that's an important message, too.

Technical: 9. Most of the album is very technically adept, but certain songs are so sparse or so slow as to not be difficult to perform, even if they might be thought-provoking.

Production: 8. Most of it is really good. It's really experimental and doesn't sound like anything else I've heard in a while, but it doesn't all work, particularly on the last third of the album, which gets a little monotonous, sound-wise.

Versatility: 9. There is a pretty wide variety of song structures, sonic ideas, and flows here. They don't all succeed, but none of them fails.

Collaborators: 7. Other than his long-time collaborator Ludwig Göransson, there are very few collaborations here. There are a few hooks sung by others, but not much more than that. This lends to a cohesive vision that is very true to what Childish wants to communicate, but it doesn't allow for other voices in the conversation and doesn't give as much variation as you would like, although the production and samples make up for that quite a bit.

History: 9. There are enough cultural references to show the album knows something of history, but much of the connection to history here is in the production, particularly with a string of choices that reject what's expected and go in new directions.

References: 10. Gambino is a master of references that other rappers either can't make or don't know enough to make. He also writes puns and metaphors that few others can.

Originality: 10. This album is fiercely original. There's nothing like it anywhere and that was the point, I think. Gambio tries more new things per song than just about anyone in the business and they frequently work, much more so than many experimental song creators.

Total Score: 92. On the first few listens, I didn't think I liked this album as much as I did "Camp," but this has so many more layers and ideas that just about anything being produced these days and while it doesn't all work, it gets a lot of credit for trying things that more people should be trying. Gambino has cemented himself as one of the most creative minds working in the realm of hip hop, it's just too bad more hip hop fans don't know this (or if they do know, they don't care).

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