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Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

November 25, 2017   |   Ithaca, NY

Life & Culture

Review: Dual release from Childish Gambino showcases rapper’s versatility

Childish Gambino

"STN MTN / Kauai"

Donald Glover has once again proved his ability as a musical innovator in the rap and hip-hop genres. Under his stage moniker Childish Gambino, Glover released an 11-track mixtape, “STN MTN,” alongside a seven-song EP, titled “Kauai,” both coming just 10 months after his last album, “Because the Internet.” Collaborating with DJ Drama and featuring a multitude of other artists, including Kari Faux and Jaden Smith, “STN MTN / Kauai” is a brilliant continuation of the narrative that Glover began in “Because the Internet.”

In the “STN MTN” mixtape, Glover focuses on his Stone Mountain, Georgia, roots, enveloping listeners in his own version of Atlanta rap, or ATL, opening the first track with the sentence, “I had a dream I ran Atlanta.” Showing off his slam-poetry style flow on top of traditional ATL tracks like Ludacris’ “Southern Hospitality” and Future and Mike WiLL Made It’s “Move That Dope,” Glover demonstrates a musical versatility unlike anything that exists in the current rap scene.

Throughout “STN MTN,” Glover’s rapid, thought-out and often silly rhymes are nonstop. In “No Small Talk,” Glover lends clever verses to Faux’s song off her mixtape “Laugh Now, Die Later.” While maintaining the idea of sharing the ATL love by leaving Faux’s underlying track largely unchanged, it leaves the song slightly weaker and more basic than some of the other tracks. One of the strongest tracks on “STN MTN” is without a doubt “Candler Road,” which showcases Glover’s lyrical genius in impressive and technically proficient bars. Beginning with a burst of energy, Glover lays down lyrics like, “They want the old Bino so they try to rewind/ The new Bino too ahead of his time,” referencing a notion that the public wasn’t ready for Glover’s innovations as a rapper in an enlivened, boastful manner.

Switch to “Kauai,” where Glover transports listeners to the tropical island of Kauai, Hawaii, using appropriate instrumentation, including bongos and smooth rhythm-and-blues grooves. The EP opens with “Sober,” an uplifting and brilliant pop tune that focuses on drug use to establish the relaxing and subdued mood of the album. “Kauai” stays true to Glover’s fans of the original pop styles from his earlier albums and functions more as a demonstration of his ability as a musician rather than focusing solely on rapping skill. “Retro” and “The Palisades” are two more tracks confirming that, while “STN MTN” was created to solidify Glover’s presence as a rapper, “Kauai” is meant to appeal to his younger, pop listeners who first embraced him.

“STN MTN / Kauai” represents some of Glover’s best work, both conceptually and lyrically, with each side complementing the other perfectly. The combination of “STN MTN” and “Kauai” creates a sort of dreamscape, telling the story of Childish Gambino as a two-sided personality: the Atlanta rapper and the lovesick dreamer. “STN MTN” shows the reality of Gambino as a serious rapper, while “Kauai” is the story of Gambino’s dreams and the idea of transcending from existence as a real person into more of an idea of what he really wants to be. Glover is pushing his talent in every possible direction, and the mixtape-EP combo is an impressive example of the creative genius and versatility in his music.