Childish Gambino – Awaken, My Love!

On Kendrick Lamar’s 2015 masterpiece, To Pimp A Butterfly, we heard him calling out to the world, “We want the funk.” It seems like Childish Gambino heard him and indulged his request because Awaken, My Love! is oozing with soul. Donald Glover unveiled this newest project at a three day album-listening event called Pharos in Joshua Tree National Park, CA. This was in September and many fans were prepared for the upcoming release then, only to be disappointed until December when we received another iconic album from a hip hop demigod.

Donald Glover picked up right where he left off on Because The Internet. Towards the end of his 2013 LP, Gambino focuses a little more on his singing and introduces some voice augmentation, which are staples of this new record. If you are a fan of Donald’s rapping, this new album might be a little disappointing for you.

I’ve been a sick boi (fan of Childish Gambino. Girls are called Gambino girls) ever since I heard “Crown on the Ground” in 2009. To give you an idea why, check out KaptainKristian’s video about why Donald Glover is the ultimate modern renaissance man (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OgQ3Hpj-CBU). One of the reasons I’m such a big fan of Donald Glover is that he never seems to shy away from who he is. He is impressively authentic and it’s what draws so many adoring fans to his shows. For much of his career as an entertainer, he has been an oddball: a token character trying to find his way in a world where not a lot of people look like him. It seems like this type of isolation plagued him as a child as well but his art has been a lovely side project in what I’m sure is a very confusing life. Donald Glover has been many things in front of his audiences: Goofy, mature, unfiltered, closed-off, the list could go on. But the one thing that Childish Gambino has always skirted around is his blackness. He has always poked fun at it in his raps and stand-up shows and he was never being disingenuous when he did acknowledge his skin color. He was simply being Donald. But it seems in this latest LP that he is ready to declare his ethnicity to the world. Instead of it being the reason why the kids at school made fun of him or why he is automatically given a pass to rap as an actor, it is the reason for his deep love of life and his fellow humans. He doesn’t even talk about him being black specifically on the album. He just is. And it’s beautiful.

If you like good, energy-filled, touch-your-soul type of music, this album is for you. My dad raised me on funk and soul music so I am definitely a little biased in my opinion of this record. It’s not perfect by any means but damn is it fun to listen to.

Score: 7.6

Saba – Bucket List

The growth of Chicago’s hip hop scene just won’t stop. It’s bigger now than it’s ever been thanks to an influx of incredibly talented, thoughtful, and cool artists. The latest Chicago rapper to make his voice heard this year is Saba, the 22 year-old face of the Pivot Gang. His new album Bucket List came out on October 27th and it’s good. Really good.

Saba started playing piano at 7 and started messing around with production software at 12. He graduated high school at 16 with a 3.9 and followed in his father’s footsteps as a musician (wikipedia.com). Luckily for him, he was able to ride the Acid Rap wave into relevance and through his relationships with other Chicago rappers (Chance, Noname, and Mick Jenkins, to name a few) he’s been able to break into the game with some really quality music. This latest tape is just another example of the authenticity that is so crucial to Saba’s, and Chicago’s, new sound. He’s real, he’s transparent, he’s positive. His message is beautiful and his lyricism only accentuates his points. His word play is impeccable and he switches up his flows effortlessly. I seriously can’t say enough about this guys ability to spit. He’s beginning to establish himself as a premier wordsmith in the industry and he has the opportunity to craft such astounding rhymes because of the subject matter he is taking on.

A theme of this new wave of Chicago rappers is to take on topics that haven’t been talked about much in hip hop over the last decade. Saba doesn’t drink or smoke, he’s never been a big partier, and he’s been able to stay out of gang violence for most of his life. Those are some of the big ideas that have been promoted in rap since the Lil Wayne era so Saba had to take inspiration from some different perspectives. Fame, family, Chicago, and the potential of our generation take the driver’s seat in Bucket List and Saba’s genuine optimism shines through these dialogues he opens up. It’s truly inspirational and what really draws me to Saba and his music.

I knew I would connect with this tape from the very first song. “In Loving Memory” sounds like a Social Experiment song and Saba wastes no time getting into his incredible rhymes. I could hear pieces of Chance, Noname, and Childish Gambino influences on this track and he sets the tone early with a dense verse and a really smooth singing performance. He finishes the track by giving us his bucket list which consists of “One, I wanna have a meal from in and out, coz I live nowhere near one. Two, I wanna go one on one against D. Rose. And three, I wanna *bleep* [sic] Kylie Jenner…” (genius.com). He’s funny, he’s enthusiastic, and he has a great new LP out. Saba most definitely has room to grow as an artist and a producer and this project has him moving in the right direction.

Score: 8.0

Mac Miller – The Divine Feminine

I have always loved Mac Miller’s music. From K.I.D.S. and Best Day Ever when all he wanted was to swag out, to the experimental days of Macadelic and Watching Movies with the Sound Off, he was a staple of my high school days. During my college career, he’s released three more projects. Faces, with its drug-induced lyrics and smooth production, is one of my favorite tapes of all time. Last year’s GO:OD AM, one of the best starting over albums in rap history, with so many references about addiction, over-dosing, and recovery, is enough to get anyone through their roughest days. His newest release, The Divine Feminine, has a completely different feel.

He’s completely focused in the album. One thing I’ve learned since really becoming a hip hop head is that it’s near impossible for an album to completely come together as one collective unit, unlike the prog rock that my dad grew me up on. This album comes together. It’s one of very few albums that I can listen to start to finish every single time. It’s a love album all the way through, however, Mac is still able to put his classic depressed twist on it. “The sun don’t shine when I’m alone,” is one of his opening lines of the album, setting the theme throughout. Most of the songs play off of the depression of not being with your significant other, the problems that occur when a relationship is purely physical, or the issues a guy has when he’s constantly messing his relationship up.

This album sounds a lot different that a lot of his other albums. It’s clear at this point that he’s not just a rapper, or a producer, or a singer, he’s just a great musician with a pure sense of sound. The production brings in soft, slow beats, jazzy beats filled with horns, and fun upbeat hooks that display his competence and that he can rap over any beat. Mac brings in a stacked grouped of artists featured on this album; Anderson .Paak and CeeLo Green put their unique voices on Dang! and We, respectively. Kendrick Lamar and Ty Dolla $ign both spit on their verses of the album, and he brings his new girlfriend Ariana Grande in for a verse on My Favorite Part.

The Divine Feminine shows a lot of growth from an artist who has put himself through a lot in recent years. If you have an hour to kill, or if you’re feeling a little down, this is definitely an album you need to check out. Thank you, Mac.

Mac Miller will be coming to SLC in November at the Saltair, you can purchase tickets here: http://smithstix.com/music/all-music/rap-hiphop/event/19011/mac-miler-nov-1

Open Mic: Dine Krew

Open Mic: Dine Krew

This week on the Open Mic, Stavo talks to local rap group Dine Krew’s Erasole James! give it a listen.