Ya know, for a while I’ve been trying and trying and trying to articulate the love that I’ve had for Childish Gambino. I’ve talked to friends about my personal history with his music, why he’s been somewhat of a core to my character. I’ve even failed at writing a blog post about this love where I told my obsession, my personal history, yet never fully captured the spirit of it (you can find that post here). And you might be asking why I’ve decided to go back to this subject, repeat a talk of an obsession, and I can tell you that it’s because, for the most part, Childish Gambino’s music was part of my formation, a foundation of my being. High times, low times, it was me and Gambino’s music bouncing in my ears. So here’s a top thirteen list of songs accompanied with my personal history to each track. And hopefully for kids new to the wave, you’ll discover some bangers you never heard of.
13. Bitch Look At Me Now (Two Weeks)
It’s Senior Week, you’ve graduated high school and you’re roaming the streets of Ocean City, your first time experiencing true freedom–a sample of supposed college living. You’ve only listened to Gambino a few times, really only a few songs. Your musical taste hasn’t formed yet. While riding in the backseat of friend’s car to some party you won’t remember this song comes on. “If living my life is what you say you’re chasing after, Nigga stop talking shit and just be a rapper.” Someone in the front seat asks, “Who’s this dude, man?” You tell him it’s Childish Gambino.
“And you listen to this guy?” he asks once more.
“Of course,” you respond.
The summer before you start your junior year of college. Your father offered you a ride from your summer job to your house since you guys work at essentially the same place, but your father made you cry earlier. And legitimately so this situation isn’t repeated over and over, let’s assume at some point for all of these entries that he’s gotten you to tear up, coerced some emotions and eye flow. You cried because he made a slight against you that implied you’re not responsible even though you’ve been trying over and over to get to a point where you can prove you’re an adult. There’s also the fact that this year you’ve not really talked to him, so he can’t really establish any assumptions about you if he doesn’t know you. So now you’re walking from the subway to your home. It’s hot out and your collard shirt’s too hot for outdoors. Sweat soaks your green collar, but you’re making air beats to the drum kicks. You’re whispering the lyrics then shouting them with each step–no care in who sees. You keep the song in repeat until you can hopefully smile.
You’re in the living room of your old apartment. It’s Childish Gambino’s second single of an album you’ve been hyped for. It goes against his old style but that’s fine–it’s great, actually. While you don’t like this song as much when compared to the first single of the album, you can’t deny that this is actually a bop. “My peanut butter chocolate cake with kool-aid,” is what you repeat to yourself while riding the T and laugh. You watch the song get meme-ified, transfixed into mainstream culture, a feat you’ve wanted for an artist you’ve adored for way too long. As you watch a movie that kept you shook through 2017, you notice it begins with this song. You smile. He’s made it. But before we end this, let’s fast forward a few months. You’re in the apartment of a friend you’ve only recently gotten to know. It’s over top of your favorite wing spot. Other friends are discussing their music tastes and the owner of the pad asks you who you listen to.
“I listen to a lot of Childish Gambino,” you say.
“Oh my god. I love him. Have you heard Redbone?”
Rather than a snarky response, that you’ve listened to all of Awaken My Love and find it a funky ride, funky being a compliment, you just answer yes. Later you’ll become real close to this friend, bonded by mutual love for the arts and hot wings. You’ll never let her live this moment down, but for now you know this is Gambino’s true blow up. You try to hide the glee from your face.
10. Break (AOTL)
In the Senior Lounge of your high school you play ping pong with friends while other classmates turn on tunes. You hear the melody of Kanye West’s All of the Lights, but it’s not Kanye West rapping, it’s Childish Gambino. You’ve not yet heard of him. You don’t know his name yet. That’s a week or two later. You wonder why someone would “ripoff” Kanye West.
In your freshman year of college you’ll try to rap this song and you’ll stumble at the part where Gambino speeds up, “With a glass full of Macallan to mess me up/ And the cash we can throw at them unless we fuck/ Dopeness.” Your friends will laugh and you’ll try again.
Fridays during junior year you’ll listen to this song while you drink Bacardi 151 to sooth your nerves and drown your sorrows, and as each party ends you’ll walk in the darkness by yourself, repeating the last few verses of this song, cause you’re not yet happy and you relate too much. The beat of each clap stays with you. They’ll pound with the pulses of future hangovers. The song’s done. You’re home.
9. Flight of the Navigator
Though you took this song for granted when Because the Internet first dropped, it’s grown on you. It’s the first song you listen to in the shower after a hard night and you just let the shower faucet pelt droplets against your back. “So we’re left alone, no one else to call upon/Be still now, broken bones, as I travel on/ Just hold me close, my darling.” Your roommates are probably tired of hearing this song through the shared wall each morning. This has become your new sad boy song. And that’s fine. Everything will just keep going and going…and going. But this song will accompany you along your way with Childish Gambino’s high hit notes as a welcomed guide.
8. U Don’t Have To Call
Your second semester of grad school you sit during your shaky start at a program you might be regretting. Things are new. Things are strange. This is your literary reality. You’re amongst a bunch of scholars discussing the this and that of transcendentalism.
A childhood friend just died.
And though you hadn’t talked to that friend in a while, maybe even had resentment towards him due and his life choices, you still can’t shake off the grief. You know that you should be paying attention to this class discussion, because why even show up to school if you’re going to be distracted, but you can’t. And now you’re just writing the lines, “This melanin pit they placed us in and said get out,” all over your notes. Cause maybe this is the trap. Maybe your hometown has no redemption and you just keep moving up and up and up so you don’t have to return to a place you both love and fear.
Later this song will change. It’ll form a different mood. One where you say women are down with the shits and your white friends look at you confused, wondering why anyone would be happy over a chick having diarrhea. One where you both lift yourself up and admit your flaws while chilling out on your commute to and from school. You’ll laugh out lines. “They playing Jeezy like that shit came out yesterday.” It’ll be a solid bop, but you’ll still feel conflicted about that day, still feel wary about ever returning home. And soon you’ll have a new mood for home: there isn’t obligation. You don’t have to call.
7. IV. Sweatpants
This is your hype. Your jam. Your forever wondering why V. 3005 was the catch on when right before it was a song of braggadocio, the perfect banger for late night drinking. Your shot taker. Your in flow. Then pause. “Fiskers don’t make noise when they start up…Just so you know.” This is your victory lap. The song you want when triumphant. It’s your third quick verse you want to master. You play it when making deliveries for your college campus job. It’s background for fucking around.
And later when you hear this song in the basement of a house show during your first year of grad school, you’ll bust out your faux rapper hand motions to a clumsy effect. You’ll show out your awkwardness, but express you know the wave, cause the song’s been out for two years and they playing it like that shit came out yesterday. This is your time.
6. Freaks and Geeks
You had only known him as that guy that played Troy in Community or as that funny guy that yelled, “Destiny,” in that one sketch on Youtube your friend from AP Chinese showed you. Before this you listened to anime openings and didn’t mess with rap. It was a culture that rejected you, but your same friend, the one from AP Chinese, shows you this song. You hear the references. Dude’s a goddamn nerd. This is love.
In your last month of high school you listen to this song over and over again until you know each word. It’s in your ears going to your internship, going to graduation, talking with parents. You hadn’t done this since the remix to Duffelbag Boy, where one of your friends said you sounded too white to rap, but this voice is different. This voice says things the same way you do. He’s what you want to be. You explain the lyrics to friends. “Took the ‘g’ out your waffle, all you got left is your ego.” You hype him up. You are his fan even though you only know this song, maybe two others. You still know this song by heart and play it while attempting to drunkenly explain what Childish Gambino means to you.
5. That Power
You didn’t expect a spoken word piece to be the cap end of this song, and for a while you didn’t know how to feel about that aspect of that song. The reference to Full House in the first half had been enough for you. This was a song that described you to a tee. This was your relationship with your race. This was how you felt about your process through adulthood. In stories you’ll reference this song. There’ll be several lines where a character says some variation of, “But it’s a sadness I chose.” There’ll be multiple moments where you then compare yourself to a child on a bus who never got off. This will become a model for your writing. It will motivate you. This is one of your sad boy bops that you return to over and over again, cycling on that bus, but never getting off, you still haven’t.
4. Me and Your Mama
Though it was a turn from what you expected when you thought of Childish Gambino, you still love this song. The slow beat, the burn into the chorus, the interloping “Let me in to your heart” that stays in your head when you think of this song even though that line isn’t actually that prominent, the way Gambino sings his emotions out into the ether. This song has become your heart. You always have to move when this plays. You just turned this tune on in the shower two days ago, pantomimed an R&B dance routine where there are intermittent dips to boost out certain lyrics. You tap this song when you’re bored and when you hear “Redbone”, an also good song, on the radio you wonder why it couldn’t have been this song. And remember when that friend said, “Oh my god. I love him. Have you heard ‘Redbone’?”
You know you wanted to actually reply, “But ‘Me and Your Mama’ is better.” And you’re still willing to die on that stance. This will be your requested song at any function, but for right now, as everyone plays catch up, this will remain mainly yours.
3. Not Going Back
It’s freshman year of undergrad and Donald Glover is the model. He is goals, and you’re apparently basic, but making your forward progressions. Your friend says he’s a bad role model because he says “nigga” and it’s bad to say “nigga”. You’re no longer friends with this guy. You listen to this song on your way to class because your discography of Gambino songs is a list of ten selections. You feel an emotion you don’t understand yet when you listen, but later as your middle school props you up as a success and your parents tell you you’re paving a way for others of your background, you really start to empathize with this song.
“Whiskey-sippin’, wanna drink the whole bottle/ But these smart middle-class black kids need a role model.”
You, at eighteen years old, should not try to be a role model.
You, eighteen years old, but having returned home after a few months away, are a role model. You will forever be stuck with that label. Whiskey-sippin’ does not excuse you. This is life now.
You decide to be a writer, you definitely should not be a role model now. You’re feeling down about your style. What if you’re not good enough? What if you’re not literary enough? You fuel revenge plots where soon you’ll spit venom, but you discard that notion. You attach to something more, because Donald Glover is goals and you need to let go of that sentence because you are no longer basic. You want to entertain. You want to be more. You want to achieve your own Renaissance. You’re not there yet, though. But really it’s too early to tell.
Let’s just state right now that you’re not a New Yorker. You’ve looked at New York, you’ve visited New York, but you’ve never lived there, and hopefully you never will despite any compliments this song gives to the city. Despite the bounty of bangers on the album, this is your favorite song on Camp, possibly your favorite song by Childish Gambino ever, which doesn’t make sense because this is the second to last entry. You fell in love with the strum of the string instrument in the background. Is it a violin? Viola? You don’t know. You’re not a music major and you refuse to ask one.
You love the references to a nerd culture you already knew and an artsy culture you’re beginning to embrace. And for cred you’ve mentioned the words Lower East Side to New York friends. One of them said that that’s not a real thing, while Desus & Mero would beg to differ.
This is the song you drunkenly ask white girls to play at undergrad parties, because unlike all the other rap songs, ones featuring Drake, because you’re at parties with white girls and of course they listen to Drake, you actually know the words to this. They always reject that request though, wondering why not “Bonfire” or “Heartbeat”, and at this point “Firefly” is getting its shine too. You try to explain it, but you can’t explain the jitters in your heart when you were at a Gambino concert after your curly topped friend, too hype for life and too smart for school, cancelled his party during the summer, a reunion of sorts, so that you two could go to this concert.
It was your little brother’s birthday. You didn’t call him. You were ill prepped for concert fare, wearing flip flops and running on a Subway fountain drink of Fuze Iced Tea and Sprite–an interesting spritzer. You’ll soak your long sleeved green shirt in sweat later. And your arches will be sore from jumping up and down with no structural support and Gatorade from 7-11 will not help you, but it’s right here, after you’ve shouted out the lyrics to “Freaks and Geeks” and you hear the string instrument playing, which though you have the chance to learn which instrument it is you won’t because you’re not looking at the strummer, you’re staring at Childish Gambino. And as he says “A New York nine’s an everywhere else six” you look over to your friend who already noted his favorite song earlier and tell him, “This is my favorite shit.” You watch Gambino go into the second verse, “Watchin’ lames handle they fame/ They bang any broad with bangs/ In a band with an animal name/ Hannibal came drinkin’ a handle of Jameson/ Anallin’ anyone is the plan for the evening/ I’m kiddin’, stop.” You watch the artist you adore stop to gasp for air, struggle with how fast he emitted those bars. You must learn to do this verse in your sleep.
But even before that moment, let’s rewind to ten days prior, your little brother’s birthday hasn’t happened yet. It’s your birthday. You’re on a cruise ship. And though it’s been agreed upon that there shouldn’t be mention of your father making you cry anymore, it should merely be implied, your father, well no, your family almost made you cry. You’ve noticed that you are merely a guest character, not even a recurring role, to their main cast. You think you don’t matter. You’re on the top deck of the ship. It’s raining and the only people around are runners who don’t understand the word vacation. With your trusty iPod touch in hand you listen to this song, and transfix upon your favorite line, “I’m a mess/ That don’t rhyme with shit, it’s just true.” You look into the water as you feel those words all too well and will continue to feel those words. This is your favorite shit.
1. I’m Alright
It’s three a.m. in your junior year and you’re terrified. You’ve cast aside your Japanese major to become a writer. You’ve changed sleep cycles, no longer going with a normal person’s flow and you sleep at eleven p.m. to wake up at two forty-five a.m., so you can go to the library and write stories, cause you’re way too behind when compared to other writers. You need to catch up.
You listen to this song each time you walk to the library. Every time before writing. Every time you feel down because this is your motivation. This is what keeps you going. This tells you that sacrifice is needed to become what you want to be. So you go sleepless. You fly to close to the sun a few times. You burn out. But you keep churning, cause two years ago, at the advent of being a role model, in an interview to represent your middle school you said, “Being happy is the goal, but greatness is my vision,” acting as if you were original, though you know you were just referencing this. And you keep going on and writing on and failing and falling and making progress to a point, no matter how slow, because you’d rather die than be average, and chances are you might. This is more than your favorite, it’s the foundation to you staying you. You no longer sing this song, you yell to the ethos to tell the world, I’m here and I’m coming for everything.
So before I end this post, I have to admit that I forgot an entry. I don’t feel like figuring out what I’d cut to fit it in, so I leave you with a short bonus entry. Later days.
Bonus: Yaphet Kotto
You told your co-worker that you’d be fine if Because the Internet was just this song on repeat for an hour. It’s just that good. “What’s the point? I don’t know/ Why am I here? Why am I alive? Why do you care?/ Living real everyday, what was your undoing?” You’d later feel cheated when the album was released and this track was no where to be found.