Review: Childish Gambino – “Awaken, My Love!”

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In 2013, I argued Childish Gambino’s merit as one of the most important rappers on the scene. The Grammy-nominated Because the Internet wasn’t just a monumental step forward for the artist that created it – it was filled with the kind of potential that might send ripples through the art form itself.

Since that time, Donald Glover has had little interest in pulling at that thread, instead releasing the pop-inspired Kauai EP, going radio silent for nearly a year, and re-emerging with one of 2016’s most important new TV series, Atlanta. Given his ever-growing talents and seeming determination to never do the same thing twice, his latest musical installment, “Awaken, My Love!”, shouldn’t come as a surprise. Even so, it confounds.

You can buy

You can buy “Awaken, My Love!” on iTunes.

As if to hammer into our skulls that the days of dick jokes and quirky one-liners are as far in the past as possible, “Awaken, My Love!” treads far away from any path you might expect a Childish Gambino record to travel. In all actuality, Glover is far from the first rapper to draw heavy influence from 70’s soul and funk – Outkast, Kendrick Lamar and others have all drawn deeply from this well, even recently. However, Glover has tumbled in headfirst in a continuing quest to expand his reflections on relationships, race and existence.

Gambino’s gospel-infused plea of, “Let me into your heart” on lead single “Me and Your Mama” proved to be far more than a gimmick to get our attention. That track is merely the most palatable re-introduction to an artist now more inspired by Bootsy Collins or George Clinton than Jay or Ye.

Awaken wanders through a vast sonic forest of psychedelic funk and soul, with each track standing easily alone thanks to Glover’s insistence on changing character. His screams from the album opener transition to creepy inflections on “Zombies”, a commentary on industry leeches: “All I see is zombies / They can smell your money / And they want your soul”. Later, on album highlight “Redbone”, his voice takes on a pitch-corrected falsetto as he reflects on the painful gray areas of a relationship that seems to mirror that of Earn and Van’s on Atlanta.

At it’s best, Awaken capitalizes on Glover’s creativity and range, matching distinctive vocal choices with bold music selections to carry the weight of his message. On “Baby Boy”, his distorted pleading voice perfectly and painfully encapsulates his fears of losing connection with his newborn son: “I don’t wanna leave you / I don’t want him to see you / But oh, when mama cries from daddy’s lies / Please don’t take him away”.

These earnest moments make tracks like “California” nearly insufferable. The potential for success is squelched by Glover’s painful accent and clumsy lines like, “How you want to loop this shit but looking like a Vine?” If we weren’t so far removed from some of the juvenile deliveries of Camp, you could easily write these attempts off as humor, but “Awaken, My Love!” shakes away that notion every turn, making any such reconciliation difficult.

It comes as a deep relief when Glover is able to tie these stray ends together by the album’s conclusion. On “Stand Tall”, Gambino forgoes vocal effects and accents as he uses his father’s words to bring understanding amidst personal and universal confusion: “Keep all your dreams, keep standing tall / If you are strong, you cannot fall”. It’s such an easily digestible sincerity that you can’t help but reach for the repeat button to see if your perception of Awaken might shift upon repeated listens.

Glover has certainly earned the creative license that results in something like “Awaken, My Love!” And, as a project deeply inspired by childhood memories with his father, it makes sense as vehicle to express his evolving perspective on relationships and his own first taste of fatherhood. It’s a deeply personal record that feels genuine, sometimes as a direct result of the very flaws it possesses.

Perhaps Awaken is Childish Gambino’s 808s & Heartbreak – an intimate and peculiar expression that leads the artist headlong into a masterpiece. Whatever the case, it’s an album worth talking about and further proof that Donald Glover is one of the most fascinating and curious artists around.

3.5/5

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

Review: A Tribe Called Quest – We Got it From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service

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For fans of A Tribe Called Quest, this is a day that none of us thought would ever come. Five years ago, the brilliantly produced Michael Rapaport documentary, “Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest”, keyed in on the deep divide between Phife Dawg and Q-Tip – a rift that had effectively kept one of hip hop’s most powerful and influential acts at a stalemate for well over a decade.

Rumors of reconciliation in the years that followed the documentary’s release helped many breathe a sigh of relief and make peace before the tragic news of Phife Dawg’s passing in March of this year. What none of us knew is that the alleged reconciliation had led the duo back into the studio with Jarobi White and Ali Shaheed Muhammad to record an album 18 years in the making. The resulting product is damn near prophetic.

You can buy We Got it From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service on iTunes.

You can buy We Got it From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service on iTunes.

Released on the same week as the election of one of the most despicable presidential candidates in recent history, We Got it From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service sounds as if it were written during Wednesday morning’s aftermath. It’s an album that reflects the quintessential sounds that defined hip hop’s golden age, laced with a timeless message that feels explicitly powerful at this moment in time.

“Space Program” sets the tone for the two-part, politically driven affair, cleverly keying in on liberal white America’s threats to flee the country during the song’s chorus, reminding us that many are, quite frankly, stuck here. We Got it From Here immediately hits its stride on “We the People…”, a defiant track that finds Tip and Phife both coming correct on a throwback track with a buzzing bass line. “We don’t believe you, cuz we the people / Are still here in the rear, ayo, we don’t need you”, Q-Tip spits to open the track. Later, his words on the song’s chorus hang painfully poignant:

“All you Black folks, you must go
All you Mexicans, you must go
And all you poor folks, you must go
Muslims and gays, boy, we hate your ways
So all you bad folks, you must go”

Track after track, Tribe pounds a resounding gong against injustices faced by black America, enlisting help from a variety of fellow truth-speakers. Talib Kweli joins in on “Killing Season”, juxtaposing military slaughter with continued police brutality cases and the murder of black leaders: “It’s war and we fighting for inches and millimeters/ They try to stall the progress by killing off all the leaders/ If we don’t give them martyrs no more, they can’t defeat us”.

In addition to Kweli, We Got it From Here features some of hip hop’s finest, both past and present. Appearances include Kendrick Lamar, Kanye West, Consequence, Busta Rhymes, André 3000, Anderson Paak, and even contributions from Elton John and Jack White. For as much as the album is a collective rallying cry, it’s impossible to ignore the record’s dual purpose as a celebration of Phife Dawg.

On “Lost Somebody”, Q-Tip and Jarobi share heartfelt lyrics, reflecting on past trials but ultimately confessing their brotherly love to Phife. Q-Tip spits, “Malik, I would treat you like little brother that would give you fits / Sometimes overbearing though I thought it was for your benefit” with Jarobi later dropping the line, “Never thought that I would be ever writing this song / Hold friends tight, never know when those people are gone”.

In the months leading up to his passing, it’s clear that Phife Dawg had little time for sentimentality. Most of his verses are laser-focused on the task at hand, taking aim at everything from Donald Trump to the media outlets that made room for such a political figure. Yet, ever the showman, Phife still finds opportunities to flash his signature bravado, as on “Black Spasmodic”: “I take zero for granted, I honors my gift / Champion pen game, plus I’m freestyle equipped”.

We Got it From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service truly feels like a gift. The fingerprints of all four members are clearly felt and each moment of the album is handled with care. Samples are expertly placed by Tip, creating the relaxed vibe of past Tribe albums with the ability to blast through the speakers when necessary to compliment a particular bar or verse. The album is, in some ways, a farewell, yet feels nothing like it. We Got it From Here is purposeful and focused from front to back.

I’ll freely admit my struggle to stay objective with this release. A Tribe Called Quest was my first true musical love – a group I discovered in middle school that would go on to shape my tastes and serve as a touchstone for my youth and the dawning of my own personal worldviews and perspectives. Along with many others, I also find myself disgusted by the outcome of the recent presidential election, aghast at the amount of hate that plagues our country.

For these, and so many more reasons, We Got it From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service will land as one of my favorite releases of the year. For fans of hip hop, it’s an album that embodies the heart of the genre. These are protest songs. Yet even in the midst of frustration and righteous anger, hope still bleeds through.

R.I.P. Phife Dawg – you’ll be missed.

4.5/5

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

Childish Gambino Returns with “Me and Your Mama”

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In a week that has been nearly devoid of good news, things just got slightly better. Childish Gambino has returned with a new singled titled “Me and Your Mama” which will be the lead track on his upcoming album, Awaken, My Love! The track is full of emotion and likely not at all what you might have expected. Take a listen below:

Awaken, My Love! is set to release on December 2, nearly three years after Gambino’s lauded Because the Internet. It’s been a busy year for Donald Glover, whose new show “Atlanta” just finished it’s first season on FX. Given Glover’s blossoming creative genius, it’s a safe bet that Awaken will be well worth the wait.

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If you like what you hear, you can preorder Awaken, My Love! now. What are your thoughts on the new song? Share in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Podcast: Kendrick Lamar’s Surprise Return

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Last month, Kendrick Lamar dropped a surprise collection of eight new songs: Untitled Unmastered. Brock Benefiel joins Kiel Hauck on this episode of the podcast to break down the release and discuss some of its finer moments. The two also reflect on Kendrick’s career arc, his influence on hip hop, and whether he has a chance to hold the genre’s title belt in 2016. Listen in!

Subscribe to our podcast here. Share your thoughts in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Podcast: Is “The Life of Pablo” Worth the Cost?

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The Life of Pablo has finally arrived – sort of. Amidst a cloud of controversy and confusion, Kiel Hauck and Brock Benefiel discuss if the music is worth the cost. The two break down the music, but also discuss the problematic misogyny and the implications of Kanye’s words. Also, where does The Life of Pablo fit within Kanye’s discography and how will his legacy be impacted by recent events? Listen in!

Subscribe to our podcast here. Share your thoughts in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Review: Kanye West – The Life of Pablo

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Attempting to review a Kanye West album requires a certain level of detachment. We’re far past a place of simply appraising a body of art – reviewing a Kanye record in 2016 is an all-encompassing exercise in exhausting dialogue and debate about pop culture, social issues, ideological stances, and the purpose of art itself. One may find it wise to leave their baggage at the door before entering the conversation.

As hard as it is to believe, the events surrounding the release of The Life of Pablo, formerly known as Waves, formerly known as SWISH, formerly known as So Help Me God, have been the most explosive and divisive yet. A disturbingly tactless tweet. The leaking of a tasteless lyric that opens old wounds. A fog of confusion surrounding the release itself, leading to larger debates about the rights of an artist and the suspicious motives of the involved parties.

You can stream The Life of Pablo on Tidal.

You can stream The Life of Pablo on Tidal.

As tedious as the ensuing shit storm proved to be, there were several critical conversations in which appropriate voices were elevated, not the least of which included the ongoing debate surrounding misogyny in hip hop, with West standing at ground zero. In the weeks and months to come, those conversations will continue, and some may find it wise to listen far more than they contribute.

Aside from those necessary discourses, two very elemental questions seem appropriate to ask regarding The Life of Pablo. “How good is it?” and “Does it even matter at this point?”

Sonically speaking, The Life of Pablo is one of the most robust and inventive releases we’re likely to hear this year. It’s much too soon to place the album appropriately within Kanye’s discography, but rest assured, Pablo is another rousing chapter in an ongoing career of musical excellence. Although slightly unfocused at times, the record is dense, full of variety, and perhaps unsurprisingly, full of surprises.

In the weeks leading up to its release, West revealed that The Life of Pablo would be a gospel album. While you could certainly argue against the album’s classification as a whole, there’s no denying that this is the latest chapter in a continuing story of the Gospel According to Kanye. Pablo is rife with religious imagery and worship that stands right alongside egotistical rants, sexual exploits and general revelry. Much like My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, though, West’s psyche seems to crack and crumble underneath the weight of it all. Those moments of vulnerability once again prove to be Kanye’s most impactful.

The Life of Pablo opens with “Ultra Light Beam” – a track that truly lives up to West’s aforementioned billing, featuring a full gospel choir and even a short sermon from pastor Kirk Franklin. The track is breathtaking from start to finish, as West chooses to let a convoy of voices carry the song. Chance the Rapper is gifted with the spotlight for a full 32 bars, highlighted by the line, “I made ‘Sunday Candy’, I’m never going to hell / I met Kanye West, I’m never going to fail”.

That five-minute primer leads into “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1” and “Pt. 2”, two connected tracks with rich beats and a dazzling chorus from Kid Cudi. It’s here that West first addresses the audience, singing, “Everybody gon’ say something / I’d be worried if they said nothing”. “Pt. 2” finds West sadly connecting his own mistakes with those of his young father. It’s one last sobering dose of reality before a windfall of braggadocio and macho escapism.

“Famous” will certainly be one of the most talked about tracks on Pablo, if only for his cheap Taylor Swift line. Unfortunately, Kanye’s own crudeness overshadows one of the strongest tracks on the record. Swizz Beats lays down a track for the ages, accompanied by a killer chorus from Rihanna. “Feedback” plays out in similar fashion, with a thumping beat that Kanye rides to perfection, spitting, “I been outta my mind a long time / I’ve been saying how I feel at the wrong time / Might not come when you want but I’m on time”.

“Highlights” grooves deep with soaring vocal lines from West, Young Thug and The Dream. It’s another rousing anthem in a string of tracks that make the 18-song album fly by. Repeated listens to this section are required to discover new textures and hidden gems underneath the surface. Whereas Yeezus tested our patience with spacey industrial sounds and grating screeches, Pablo is pleasing to the ear and full of movement without becoming overcrowded or bogged down. Think the poppiest moments of 808s and Heartbreak crossing paths with the thick production of Twisted Fantasy.

As the album makes its final turn, shit gets real. The party comes to an abrupt halt with the startling transition from “Waves” to the minimalist “FML”. In an updated version of “Welcome to Heartbreak”, Kanye reflects on his lifestyle, ego and disruptive behavior yet again, singing, “I been thinking / About my vision / Pour out my feelings / Revealing layers to my soul” right before The Weeknd chimes in with, “I wish I would go ahead and fuck my life up / Can’t let them get to me / And even though I always fuck my life up / Only I can mention me”. It’s a duet of epically broken proportions.

On “Real Friends”, Ye laments the chasm that exists between himself and his friends and family, longing for relationships founded on honesty and trust. The album’s proper ending lies in “Wolves”, a previously performed track that loses a slight amount of its original luster with the loss of Vic Mensa and Sia. This new version still finds West tearing at his inner wolf, ashamed of the thought of his mother discovering how he “turned out.” Newly recruited Frank Ocean now carries the song to its conclusion, sharing in the descent before closing with the poignant line, “Life is precious, we found out”.

The odd addition of five more tracks that do little to add to the album’s overarching themes or sonic direction are somewhat clarified when West declares them to be “bonus tracks” during an ad-lib section near the end of “30 Hours”. Since most were a part of the Good Friday releases leading up to the album, their inclusion here remains odd. If nothing else, we’re treated to a properly mixed version of “No More Parties in L.A.” featuring Kendrick Lamar.

The Life of Pablo is a sprawling epic – one that is perhaps Kanye’s most manic and enigmatic creation and one that’s difficult to digest if you’re sitting in the front row. It’s possible that the record is the least cohesive of West’s career, but as the sum of its parts, it’s another shining example of Kanye’s genius as a producer and engineer of sound. Ye leans heavily on the album’s guests, each of whom are allowed to bring their own personality to the mix. That he once again has managed to orchestrate a project at the center of the hip hop zeitgeist in a way that elevates his own genius is a thing of legend.

Even so, we’re left once more to deal with the aftermath once the record stops spinning. Kanye’s desire for admiration is constantly usurped by a self-fulfilling prophecy in which we, his audience, are supposed to hate him. Upon the release of Yeezus, I discussed the frustration of Kanye apologists who wish nothing more than to validate West in his artistic brilliance, but feel alienated by his cantankerous nature.

Perhaps no artist in recent memory has more openly battled his demons and confessed his sins than Kanye West. His journey of self-deprecation and self-improvement is chronicled throughout all of his work and in countless interviews. Nevertheless, there are still more mountains to climb, none more daunting than that of his continued misogyny. In order for the wound to heal, he’ll have to stop digging deeper, an act that is unfortunately his fatal flaw. How much longer you’re willing to deal with it is a personal decision. Me? I’m still undecided, but The Life of Pablo has me wondering, even as I nod my head to the beat.

4/5

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

Kanye West Tweets Tracklist for “SWISH”

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Kanye West has revealed the final tracklist for his upcoming album SWISH. Check out Kanye’s tweet below, featuring a photo of the tracklist on a notepad:

Track Listing
1. Nina Chop
2. Father Stretch My Hands
3. Waves
4. High Lights
5. 30 Hours
6. No More Parties in L.A.
7. Fade
8. FML
9. Real Friends
10. Wolves

Rough versions of a few of the tracks, including “Real Friends”, “Fade” and “No More Parties in L.A.” have been released on Soundcloud as a part of Kanye’s Good Fridays series. What are your thoughts on what you’ve heard so far? Share in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Podcast: Kanye West Returns

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Yeezy season approaches once again! With only a few weeks until the alleged release of Swish, the new album from Kanye West, Kiel Hauck and Brock Benefiel break down the events that have led us to this moment. A year full of random tracks, album name changes, and odd announcements and collaborations have left us anxiously anticipating Kanye’s seventh full length solo album. Listen in!

Subscribe to our podcast here. Share your thoughts in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Most Anticipated of 2016: #5 Childish Gambino Breaks the Internet

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Where on earth is Childish Gambino?

It was a pretty quiet year for Donald Glover the musician. After the critical success of his sophomore album, Because the Internet, Childish Gambino was radio silent for most of 2015 – even his Twitter account went blank. Outside of the music world, Glover made appearances in movies like “The Martian” and “The Lazarus Effect”, and his comedy series, “Atlanta”, was recently picked up by FX.

Glover has always been multi-talented, combining his comedy, acting, writing and music into a whirlwind of cultural force. Even during the days of his coming out party while on the cast of “Community”, it was clear that Glover was destined for greatness. As 2016 begins, the line between Glover the rapper and Glover the everything else may be murkier than ever, but we’re still holding out hope for a return of Gambino before year’s end.

Because the Internet succeeded with its refusal to give into pretense, demolishing preconceived notions of a lack of maturity that spurred from the release of his debut, Camp. Sometimes funny, often heart wrenching, always pointed, that album mined the depths of the millennial psyche in the Internet age, proving Gambino to be far more than a joke rapper. With a voice that distinct and contemplative, we eagerly await whatever comes next, music or otherwise.

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

Podcast: The Best Music of 2015

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Just when you thought those end of the year breakdowns were over – Kiel Hauck and Kyle Schultz return for one final discussion on the best music of 2015. During the chat, the duo break down splendid albums and singles from the likes of Kendrick Lamar, The Wonder Years, The Weeknd. The Early November, Carly Rae Jepsen and much more! What are you waiting for? Listen in below!

Subscribe to our podcast here. Share your thoughts in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck