Childish Gambino gets serious with 'STN MTN/Kauai'

Glassnote Entertainment

By Amelia Zak, Daily Arts Writer
Published October 5, 2014

Donald Glover must have difficulty generating respect from his rap-god peers. Why exactly is he considered an outsider? Buried by the great variety of creative successes, Glover’s double identity as a hip-hop artist is tarnished; he publicly insults Kendrick and Drake regularly, he records exclusively with indie labels, etc. Unsurprisingly, his personal shout-out in Tina Fey’s award-winning autobiography or his cameo on Lena Dunham’s “Girls” leave much to be desired in the rap world. In the context of that world, Childish Gambino is the annoying kid at the party who always whips out his guitar.


Childish Gambino
Gangsta Grillz and Glassnotes Entertainment Group

Glover recognizes his status as the pariah of rap music. The music and lyrics of his 2013 full-length studio album, Because the Internet, speak intensely, and excessively, about the influence of his critics or “haters.” Because of the indie nature of Glover’s sound, he attracts both sides of the spectrum: the greatest fans and the vehement critics. His newest creation, released unexpectedly last Thursday, is a very good example of Gambino’s creatively eccentric rap music. Reassuming his Childish Gambino identity, Glover took some time away from his many other creative engagements — screenwriter, actor and recent author — to create what he likes to call “the first concept mixtape ever.” The conceptual uniqueness of the mixtape, especially for this genre, is undeniable.

The mixtape, titled STN MTN/Kauai , is, according to Gambino, “connected” and transitions into the simultaneously released extended play, Kauai. Both carry similarities to his 2013 Because the Internet album, but the mixtape and EP are very conceptually and sonically different. Named after his Georgia suburb hometown, the Gangsta Grillz mixtape is pretty great. Eclectic but thoughtful, Gambino rhymes over samples of some ATL-bred hits, including “Southern Hospitality,” “Move That Dope” and “Money Baby,” as well as Lil Wayne’s “Go DJ” and Timbaland & Magoo’s “All Y’all.” His raps reflect on his youth, like on the eighth track of the tape, “U Don’t Have To Call,” when he intimately describes his experiences with the foster care system. “Dreams/ Southern Hospitality/ Partna Dem,” the opening track of the mixtape, describes all the changes he would hypothetically make if he were mayor of Atlanta. He spends much of the tape reiterating his Southern identity, a layer of Glover that is usually ignored or unseen by many.

Glover described the secondary part of his newest release, the EP titled Kauai, as a musical interpretation of him “walking into a dream.” Gambino the rapper becomes more a soul singer; on the opening track, “Sober,” Gambino’s voice is cool, light and is oddly akin to Michael Jackson. Lost nights on Hawaiian beaches is a repeated situational theme for most of the EP, as are the spoken raps of the Fresh Prince’s eldest, Justin Bieber-approved Jaden Smith. This addition is radical, but the spoken poetry isn’t half bad. Childish Gambino’s raps, once again, are complex and force his true listener to contemplate or at least consider their meaning. He isn’t focusing on the aesthetics of some girl at the club or car door physics. Instead, he is simply presenting his audience, through music, with a personal experience that relates to a larger, more critical topic.

The differences on this double release are stark, with great variations in location, sound and attitude on both. The mixtape takes you through the suburbs of Atlanta and the EP walks on a Hawaiian beach with a member of the Smith family dynasty. On the mixtape, the music is angry; on the EP, it’s calm and content. The two are so clearly juxtaposed, and so it becomes clear that Gambino is always better when he’s madder.