Jul 12, 2012

Album Review: Childish Gambino "Royalty"

July 4, 2012 the hip-hop world was given a new hip-hop hope when the triple threat known as Childish Gambino AKA Community's Troy Barnes, AKA stand-up comedian Donald Glover released Royalty. Royalty was no normal album, but a mixtape free for download on Glover/Gambino's website. On Royalty, the 28 year old phenomenon from Stone Mountain, Georgia brings the same quality beats he unleashed on the world with his popular album, Camp.

1) "ROYALTY" - 9 second intro skit. A little creepy, but not worth reviewing or factoring into rating.

2) "We Ain't Them" - Really touching and insightful look into the life of Donald Glover and his views on family, society, and success. A great, great opening to the album with really memorable lines, such as "Weird night and everybody was tipsy, hanging out with Quest Love reminiscing about Whitney. He like 'man, we can't even make it to 50?'" He also takes a shot at Asher Roth, which is really just pandering to me and my sensibilities. Going to be hard to match the greatness of this song - 5 / 5.

3) "One Up" - Steve G. Lover kicks off the track with beautiful flow, but there's something off in the production department (at least for me) on this track. It sounds like the volume jumps up and down. Overall, I wasn't an enormous fan of this song as it didn't live up to "We Ain't Them", but the volume equalizer being off hurts it as well. Overall, a skippable track, 3 / 5.

4) "Black Faces" Nipsey Hussle starts off the track with a very raw, street performer conversational-sounding rap before Childish Gambino jumps in with all the bells and whistles. Gambino's got epic rhymes to spare and while the overall song lacks direction or meaning, it's a really cool song you can listen to on repeat without getting tired of. 5 / 5.

5) "Unnecessary" - A song about living needlessly lavishly when you obviously shouldn't, but enjoying the ride. Gambino, Schoolboy Q, and Ab-Soul absolutely tear this track up! Not a big fan of the chorus, but it's completely compensated by outstanding verses. It's not even so much that the lyrics are mind-blowing, but the delivery is masterful, mixing different speeds and tones. An easy to score 5 / 5.

6) "Shoulda Known" - Admittance that the abundance of references to drugs and alcohol are just to fit the scene, Gambino shows his softer, realer, cleaner side. Lines like "Stopped drinking for the most part, my only vices - all our pictures on my laptop." remind me of Gambino's character Troy on Community, who is another creative outlet for the real Donald Glover. My favorite line however, is probably "One love, the thing that hasn't changed. My parents lost their job, it's so cold in the A. Now that I'm 1% I send most of it home. I want to stunt, but she need to pay off her student loans." Unfortunately there's a certain it-factor missing from the song, so I can only award it 4.5 / 5.

7) "R.I.P." - If you're a fan of the film's Drive soundtrack, you'll quickly recognize that "R.I.P." samples "Nightcall" by French DJ Kavinsky. Bun B. of UGK and solo fame really sucks you in with his opening verse, adding such a deep bassy voice that contrasts to Gambino's and most of the other rappers on this album. The chorus from "Nightcall" is scratchy and skippy which at first isn't that noticeable but by the end of the song tricks you into thinking your track is damaged somehow. Creative, but in a realistic way - as annoying as a cop siren in a song. Tricking the consumer/fan base isn't cool! Oh well, definitely a highlight, 5 / 5.

8) "American Royalty" - Straight out of Wu-Tang, RZA comes in like a house on fire with trumpets blaring in the background and brings you back to a simpler time of gangster rap. Unfortunately the candle that burns twice as bright burns half as long and he gets off the mic before he completely loses his nostalgic value. Gambino tags in and starts bringing you back to life, but also lacks the fire he possesses in other tracks. Not a terrible song, but misses it's potential. 4 / 5.

9) "It May Be Glamor Life" - Also repping Wu-Tang, Ghostface Killah gets his own track, lasting all of a minute and a half. It's cool and fun, but seems like it was just thrown on because Gambino was probably a big fan and wanted to name drop who he runs with. Gambino doesn't touch the mic in this one and lets it lie at a minute and a half. While great for Gambino, album-wise nothing worth listening. 1 / 5.

10) "Toxic" - Britney Spears sample, horray! Not a fan of Danny Brown's opening verse at all, strictly due to his nasally voice however. Maybe it's an acquired taste/sound/whatever, but this being my introduction to Danny Brown, I'm not a fan. Gambino and the Britney Spears chorus completely save the song however and makes me want to listen to this track again and again. 5 / 5.

11) "Silk Pillow" - As you can imagine with Beck involved, this song is as creative and artsy as it gets. Hard to understand and follow, but Rap Genius certainly can lend a valuable hand. Lyrically, while not all that meaningful and relatable, some of the best rhymes I've heard on the album by both artists. "Drama-rama's melodramas, you draw commas on the eyes of madonnas, and wonder why you can't turn traumas into nirvanas." - Beck. "Sippin' on some whiskey, these b*tches drinking Kombucha. Recession means more oppression, these n*ggas will shoot ya." - Gambino. While not the best straight RAP song, the creativity alone earns this track 5 / 5.

12) "They Don't Like Me" - Chance The Rapper's nasally voice works against him in his opening verse, much the same way Danny Brown's does, but Chance at least owned it and had skills to compensate. I really enjoyed his verse as he brought a comedic edge to the song, similar to Gambino, but with a Katt Williams delivery. Given that Chance is so underground he doesn't even have his own wiki, I hope this track is his big break because he made the most of it. Unfortunately, Gambino barely touched the mic (albeit more than "It May Be Glamor Life"). So I'm halfway between meh and awesome, giving this track 3 / 5.

13) "Arrangement" - Love the tune to this song but Gonage's opening verse left a LOT to be desired, and Gambino wasn't very hot either. 2 / 5.

14) "Won't Stop" - While I don't think that a song absolutely has to follow a three-verse format, this is a great song that really suffers from only having one verse. The lovely singing voice of Danielle Haim signing the chorus, and the beautiful hook sung by Gambino himself are fantastic, but not enough to support the sole verse of the song. Unfortunately a skippable track but hopefully gets reworked and put on Gambino's next LP/EP. 3 / 5.

15) "Bronchitis" - Much like the previous track, Gambino sticks to only one verse and tries to fill the rest of the song with weird noises contributed by Beck and hooks. Same format, same quality, same score. 3 / 5.

16) "Wonderful" - Once again it's the same format, which really puts me off considering he could have just made all three songs into one song. But then he'd have to sacrifice either Beck, Danielle Haim or Josh Osho. Osho was another great singer on this album who really helped this track, and Gambino's sole verse was very moving, so I'll be a bit generous on this rating. 3.5 / 5.

17) "Make It Go Right" - Kilo Kish adds a feminine side spark to the album, but this love duet just doesn't sit well with the tone of the album. Even the music is like land of the fairies and elves. A skippable 2.5 / 5.

18) "Real Estate" - The longest track on the album at just under six minutes and featuring such guests as Alley Boy, Swank, and Tina Fey! Everybody gets a fair amount of time in their verses (although Swank just kind of talks more than raps) as Gambino proves he's a wise gangster, investing in real estate, a legitimate and wealthy field. But who am I kidding, Tina Fey busts a rhyme on this track. She's no Natalie Portman, but she easily earned this track 5 / 5.

My Highlights:
"We Ain't Them", "Black Faces", "Unnecessary", "R.I.P.", "Toxic", "Silk Pillow", and "Real Estate"

Overall Rating:
Averaging all of the scores together, the technical rating is 3.8 / 5. I don't like weird numbers like that however though and prefer to do things in .25 increments, but do I think the album is worthy of 3.75 or 4? Well given the high amount of hits on this album and the fact it's available for free download on Gambino's website, this is an easy, easy, easy...

4 / 5

No regrets at all taking the time to download and listen to this, and I'll be passing on my highlights to friends for a long time. Everyone should also check out Gambino's album, Camp if they enjoy this mixtape.

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