donald glover’s element is surprise
March 23, 2020
A bona fide star of stage and screen, Donald Glover is a man who exists both in the public eye but also safely out of sight when he chooses to be. His celebrity is peculiar in that, for all the accolades like Grammys, Emmys, and platinum plaques he’s amassed, he’s still managed to be one of the few famous people able to let the world know only what he wants us to know — when he wants us to know it. Every move he makes is shrouded in mystery, so when he does present something to us all, the element of surprise is always on his side.
His latest surprise is his new album 3.15.20 which is apparently named after the day it initially was released on his site as a continuous stream before it was replaced by a countdown clock that hit zero on March 22, indicating the release of the album on all digital streaming platforms.
The album has been revealed for our listening pleasure yet it is still a thing of mystery — only two songs, “Algorhythm” and “Time” have non-numerical titles and none of the marquee features like 21 Savage, Ariana Grande, or Khadja Bonet are listed. What we do know from listening to the first Childish Gambino full-length since 2016’s P-Funk-inflected Awaken My Love, however, is that usual suspect Ludwig Goransson pops up as a co-producer and co-writer on a number of tracks on this 12-song, 57-minute set — as do producer DJ Dahi (Drake, Kendrick Lamar), pianist/composer James Francies, and songwriter/drummer Chukuwudi Hodge.
Glover’s always been an artist who wears his influences on his sleeve, this go ’round he put his own spin on an amalgamation of Kanye West, Frank Ocean, Prince, Stevie Wonder, and Drake. He leans on melody instead rapid-fire rhymes to get his point across on most of 3.15.20, an album that centers on love relationships and in-the-moment introspection.
The aforementioned “Algorhytm” borrows its bright chorus from Zhane’s 1994 hit “Hey Mr. DJ” juxtaposed with Gambino’s distorted gravel-voiced existentialist bars in the verses. “12.38” is a six and a half minute trip through a Childish Gambino’s version of the Quiet Storm as he tells the story of a romantic ‘shroom-fueled evening with a lover and her disagreeable cat. It’s keyboard-driven R&B bliss as he pledges to please her going from rhymes to excited falsetto singing: “Every time we walk around / they ask how she gonna hold him down” and references bell hooks’s “All About Love.” 21 Savage pops up on the song to brag: “I’m on a private jet eatin’ Popeyes chicken/ I be flexin’ like I’m eatin’ Popeyes spinach.”
With “24.19,” another slow-burning love song, Glover straddles the line between the pitched-up vocal approach Frank Ocean used on “Nikes” and a guitar-driven ballad that would make Prince proud. An enraptured Gambino belts out “Sometimes I wonder why you love me, but you love me” to his “sweet thang” before cautioning “if you wanna be happy don’t look at my phone.” On “32:22” Goes full Kanye circa Yeezus with distorted, barely intelligible lyrics over a wonky electronic bassline, warped synths and animal sounds (both jungle and farm animals, to be precise). Unexpectedly, a version of his 2018 loosie “Feels Like Summer” pops up here as “42.26” and it’s a welcome throwback to a time before COVID-19 and self-isolation that feels both nostalgic and hopeful in the new light.
Through Glover’s creative output we get a glimpse of his thought process and, through his art, we also experience his emotions but, unlike so many other celebs, Glover’s personal life is on a need-to-know basis, so it’s surprising to see his sons featured in the promo pics for the album with his son Legend lending endearing off-key vocals on “47.48” and engaging in a heartwarming conversation about love with Glover before bringing in the self-love anthem “53.49.” “There is love in every moment under the sun,” he wails on the closing track, surely something to keep in these times.
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