The artist formerly known as Childish Gambino has provided millions of fans with a much-needed distraction from the coronavirus frenzy. On Sunday, March 15, the award-winning multihyphenate released a surprise untitled album, which served as his first full-length release since 2016’s Awaken, My Love!. Only available for streaming through donaldgloverpresents.com, his newest groove featured 12 songs, including a few previously released tracks like “Feels Like Summer,” “Algorythm,” and “Warlord,” which he performed at Coachella in 2019.
In 2017, Glover confirmed he was retiring his Childish Gambino moniker, though he kept winning golden gramophones under the name. He won a Grammy for Best Traditional R&B Performance for “Redbone” the following year in 2018. “I stand by that,” Glover said about dropping the name. “I’m making another project right now… but I like endings, I think they’re important to progress.” In an extremely sad turn of events, the former #YangGang creative consultant took down his Donald Glover Presents website, leaving the project that also featured SZA, Ariana Grande, and 21 Savage gone just hours after its sudden release.
Despite no other information from Glover’s ROYALTY camp, including song titles, being made available — it goes without saying that his most recent drop was equal parts dope and mysterious. With that being said, ESSENCE wanted to unpack everything we learned about this surprise collection of music after a few spins.
Embrace The Unknown
There was no alert, no notification, no massive social media campaign to corral music lovers around the project. Instead, eagle-eyed music lovers noticed that Donald Glover’s longtime producer, Ludwig Görasson (Black Panther, The Mandalorian), had re-shared a fan’s tweet, letting people know that new music was out. The website, donaldgloverpresents.com, contained no information about the LP, but displayed a text-submission box whose purpose will remain unknown for now. Add to the mix that with no song titles available, fans created their own placeholder names until Glover and Co. decide to drop an official tracklist.
Netflix & Pandemic Outbreaks
Upon arriving at the site to stream the surprise LP, music lovers see a four-panel piece of artwork depicting a large crowd gathering involved in some sort of hysteria. Maybe Donald has been watching Pandemic: How to Prevent an Outbreak on Netflix before he dropped this project because it all felt like it was right on time. Given the circumstances going on now with the coronavirus pandemic, the sight of seeing the hand-drawn artwork placing people in such a chaotic felt Nostradamus-esque. Before “quarantune” playlists and “social-distancing” became buzzwords, a song like “Algorythm” plays into the theme of apocalyptic frenzy, where Donald chastises humanity over some electronic production, rapping, “Humans don’t understand, humans gon’ sell a lie / ‘Cause humans gotta survive, we know we gon’ die.”
There’s No “Time” Like The Present
“Feels Like Summer” was a hit for Donald and made his Summer Pack release one worth keeping on repeat. But despite that song making its appearance on Donald Glover Presents, a few people might have overlooked another song that was given an early drop in grand ROYALTY fashion. “Time,” which was featured in the Hiro Murai-directed, Rihanna-co starring film, Guava Island, was written by Donald Glover and Ludwig Göransson. Performed in the film by Karla Talía Pino Piloto and Alain Jonathan Amat Rodriguez, this song makes its return as a perspective by Donald on the future of humanity. On the song he sings, “Seven billion people / Tryna free themselves / Said a billion prayers / Tryna save myself / I can see it coming / But it’s moving fast.”
Daddy Donald Glover
With the featured guests and their voices being celebrated in the press and online, there is another voice on the album that deserves a spotlight all its own. According to Complex, Donald Glover has two sons, Legend, who was born in 2017, and another, whose name has yet to be disclosed, was born in 2018. On the outro for Donald Glover Presents, Donald has a beautiful exchange with his son, asking him, “What do you love?,” then rephrases it, saying, “Who do you love? Me?” His progeny responds in a beautiful way, saying, “Mom and Hulalo. And Santa / And I love — and I love Roland / And I love myself.” It is a rare and genuine look at an artist welcoming us into his world as a family man.
A Mad Scientist Expands His Formula
For years, before the hype, music critics and fans alike ignored just how experimental Donald’s music was as Childish Gambino. From his surreal music videos to his unique samples, ‘Bino grew into a rapper by tinkering with popular (and un-popular) formulas to create his own periodic table of dopeness. On Donald Glover Presents, he further eschewed hip-hop for broader sounds of R&B and pop. Much like Awaken, My Love! embraced the funk for its soundbed, this new project is focused on the future. Electronic production techniques, flourishing vocal effects, and contemporary songwriting methods make this effort a step forward for the always-tinkering, forward-thinking savant.
Watch the Traphouse
Featuring SZA and Ariana Grande on your project is a pretty blockbuster move, but everyone was enthralled with Donald Glover’s partnership with 21 Savage. This wasn’t the first time these two made magic. After first connecting on i am > i was back in late 2018, Donald and 21 reconnected on a song called “Vibrate” with the end result doubling down on their awesomeness. With the former proving that he’s no slouch with the bars or the singing verses, Atlanta’s other favorite “bloke” capsizes the song with his penchant for menacing verses. “Got a girl in Harvard, I talk proper when I call her / Baby, I’m a baller, ain’t no way that I can rob ya,” 21 raps, proving that this tandem has shot up to the list of dream collaborations we hope for in 2020 and beyond.
Kevin L. Clark (@KevitoClark) is a Brooklyn-based health and culture journalist, and recent kidney transplant recipient who is raising awareness about his Mighty Healthy crowdfunding project on Seed&Spark.