Nor did we expect Donald Glover to be the least controversial, and yet…
Cédric Le Merrer: One fine day, Donald Glover decided he would stop this whole rapping mess and become… George Clinton? Or at least the Funkadelic-infused Erykah Badu of New Amerykah Part One. His whole album is filled with perfectly serviceable P-Funk, minus the revolutionary mindset of the originals. But we’re stuck with Childish Gambino for some time still, so overall I welcome this change of style.
Anthony Easton: This is not the sound I expected from Glover, but it is well-formed and genuinely beautiful, with a perfectly modulated falsetto and a coda of abstracted art. This is music making that argues for the performer as a production auteur, and it works.
Alfred Soto: So he sings like Macy Gray and uses distortion. Big whoop.
Juana Giaimo: Childish Gambino’s falsetto in “Redbone” sounds too forced, making the warm soulful vibes of the song lose their spell.
Maxwell Cavaseno: The blatant attempt by Donald Glover to echo ’70s funk in its power of the political has been met with a myriad of responses. Some admire that after swimming in a mire of awful edgelord punchlines and try-hard rap antics, Childish Gambino now shows dedication and a talent for singing and songwriting. Others take issue with the blatant copyism and question whether he’s been rewarded for appealing to rockist perceptions of what’s “valid.” “Redbone” is a “nice” rewrite of “I’d Rather Be With You” drained of personality and humor, and that’s what I find frustrating not only of Gambino but of many people reaching for THA FUNK to combat recent struggles and gloom: it’s not fun. The trickster sensibility of playing the fool while knowing that the real fools are the ones who wallow in cruelty and wickedness has been lost to generations of emulators, who know what these artists accomplished but not how they did it. It boggles the mind that Glover, a man who so publicly depends on a sharp wit, is trying so hard to be dutifully significant in such a dull way.
Ryo Miyauchi: Funk seems to be a much better outlet for Donald Glover, who no longer has to cover up his big heart with wry wittiness or a posture of cool. That said, he relies so heavily on other people’s songs, or more so impressions of them, that I have a hard time figuring out if I’m connecting with Glover or the artists he’s channeling.
Claire Biddles: Maybe it’s because of the Grammys, but I can’t help but think of Childish Gambino in relation to Bruno Mars, and the legacy of Prince. Where Bruno’s latest iteration — which I love, and which we reviewed earlier this week — can be seen partly as a homage to slick, polished, contained-within-3-and-a-half-minutes Prince, Donald Glover is descended from the dripping, meandering funk version of Prince. Bruno presents the idealised version of sex — flawless, concise, persuasive — but “Redbone” is its reality — delicious, taking its time, somehow even lovelier.
Jonathan Bradley: It’s remarkable how smoothly Donald Glover slides into this funk slow-jam, sounding nothing like the dorky wiseacre of his stand-up routines or the punchline stringer who wandered from the Community set into a rap career. With a falsetto better appreciated, admittedly, for its precision than its vocal nous, Glover drizzles “Redbone” with popping bass, a lush throwback groove, and dripping melodic runs that pool into sticky hooks as they descend. Impressive as the current incarnation of Childish Gambino is, Glover’s current hold on the zeitgeist is as enjoyable for the meandering path he took to get here. We expect artists to arrive fully formed, to blow us away with an astonishing debut or a bold new voice missing from contemporary conversation. But seeing Glover grow up in public, from 30 Rock writer to talented comic actor to uncertain and derivative rapper, and ultimately to the force behind one of the most celebrated television programs of 2016 as well a widely well-reviewed pop record reveals something far more welcome about creative endeavor. Talent isn’t a gift bestowed by the gods, but the product of hard work, experience, and experimentation. Glover’s maturation is something to be celebrated not just for its results, but for its gradual and highly visible realization.