Pitchfork delivers Ether of the year on "Camp"
[pic - click to view] Childish Gambino: Camp | Album Reviews | Pitchfork
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If you buy only one hip-hop album this year, I'm guessing it'll be Camp. Because while Campmaintains some of the overweening humor of Donald Glover's sitcom "Community", it essentially serves the same purpose. While Glover's exaggerated, cartoonish flow and overblown pop-rap production would be enough to make Camp one of the most uniquely unlikable rap records of this year (and most others), what's worse is how he uses heavy topics like race, masculinity, relationships, street cred, and "real hip-hop" as props to construct a false outsider persona. On record, he paints himself as a misunderstood victim of cultural preconceptions who is obviously smarter and funnier than his primetime material suggests. Unfortunately, it's a position that holds up to absolutely no scrutiny whatsoever.
Glover's not doing himself any favors with a rap handle taken from the Wu-Tang Name Generator, but that'd be easy to overlook if Camp functioned as anything more than a series of similar one-note gags. On a song-by-song basis, Glover scripts a slightly off-brand, fictional version of Kanye West being played for laughs. We could talk about Glover's bloodlines all day, but Childish Gambino's paternity test traces straight back to "All Falls Down". While he painfully leans into herniated punchlines like, "She's an overachiever/ All she does is suck seed," "You See Me" reimagines "n*ggas in Paris" as a meme cemetery. (Or maybe "Asian girls everywhere... UCLA!" will eventually end up on a T-shirt.) The bottle-service electro of "Heartbeat" could have been the 10th-funniest song on 808s & Heartbreak-- somewhere between "The Coldest Winter" and "Love Lockdown"-- and it's actually trying for laughs. A few tracks focus on more inspirational topics than "making up for the fu*ks I missed in high school," but they usually emulate "Jesus Walks", or when trying to be slightly more humble,"Get By". But any shred of relatability Glover establishes by reminiscing about sinkbaths with his cousin, or trying to fit into the white school his parents busted their a.sses to send him to, are cancelled out by R&B hooks so garish and impersonal they make Lupe Fiasco's Lasers sound dignified.
Supporters may rush to praise Glover as a "multi-talent" due to Camp's self-production, but his cratedigging begins with The College Dropout and ends with My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, all of it Blingee'd up with a.ssistance from "Community" composer Ludwig Goransson. Yes, that's a lot of Yeezy talk, but the most insidious aspect of Camp is how Glover operates from a pre-Kanye inferiority complex where he senses that any dismissal of his music stems from gangsta rap still being the predominant aesthetic version of hip-hop (never mind that the most commercially relevant guy who can be feasibly be called "gangsta rap" right now is Rick Ross, and even he's widely beloved on account of being an acknowledged pathological liar). This much is obvious from the tone-deaf "All of the Shine," and especially "Backpackers", a preemptive strike at his always-male, usually educated haters. Note how its title co-opts the one epithet more outdated than "hipster" in rap music circa 2011.
Glover isn't strictly a comedy rapper, but he flows like a comic actor: When he's trying to be playful, his voice hitches in a pubescent squeak, and when he "goes in," he's still delivering one room-clearing punchline after another with the earnestness of the most confused Rhymesayers guy ever. At the very least, Camp can serve as hashtag rap's tombstone, and I'll just present some choice quotes without comment so you can decide for yourself: "I made the beat and murdered it, Casey Anthony," "You can kiss my a.ss, Human Centipede," "I got a girl on my arm, dude show respect/ Something crazy and Asian, Virginia Tech."
Every attempt Glover makes to present himself as an inside operative confounding stereotypes about mainstream rap rings totally false. In "Fire Fly", he brags about the ease of scoring college gigs and college girls (while rhyming "LSU" with "molest you") and then complains: "No live shows because I can't find sponsors/ For the only black guy at a Sufjan concert." Bullsh*t. OK, look: I realize that there's a chance some kid will hear that line and feel validated, and you know, the last thing we need is an armchair cracker like myself relating contrary anecdotal evidence about the crowd at Sufjan Stevens' last concert. So let's just look at the facts: Jay-Z and Beyoncé could be seen at Grizzly Bear shows in 2009, Justin Vernonhas a free pass to jump on any track he chooses, and producers spent the year sampling Beach House, the xx, and Tame Impala. How does Glover explain Drake? Is he "crazy or hood," or just a half-Jewish, former child actor from Toronto who's already sold 600,000 copies of Take Care while signed to Lil Wayne's record label? I mean, sub-major hip-hop isn't a post-cred, post-racial utopia by any means, but I can't think of another time when there were more options for listeners of just about any race or background seeking to identify with rappers on a non-allegorical level. I just have to a.ssume Glover has completely ignored the success of (amongst many, many others) Lil B, G-Side, Main Attrakionz, Curren$y,Kendrick Lamar, Odd Future, Danny Brown, and especially Das Racist when he meekly moans, "Is there room in the game for a lame that rhymes/ And wears short shorts and tells jokes sometimes?" It's the perfect summation of Camp: preposterously self-obsessed, but not the least bit self-aware. Tell me that ain't insecure.