By Christopher Brocker
Nearly three and a half years since the release of “Awaken, My Love!,” Childish Gambino aka. Donald Glover returns for his fourth studio album 3.15.20. The album title is the date March 15th of this year which is also the day this album was initially released on his website. The album was available exclusively on Glover’s website for 12 hours after the link was tweeted by a member of his team. The website played the album in one continuous stream for the entirety of the 12 hours it was available. The website also featured a text box which allowed users to type information however, it didn’t lead to anything.
Within the week leading to the official release, a countdown timer appeared on the same website which was set to end on March 22nd at 12 a.m. pacific time. This, of course, was when the album was officially released on all streaming platforms. The website featured another continuous stream of the album briefly on Sunday. The steam was accompanied by a handwritten letter from Glover which was similar to an open letter he posted to Instagram in 2013.
Other than the songs “Algorhythm” and “Time,” the rest of the tracks are named after their time stamps. The album artwork continues this minimalist style simply being a white square. The rollout and packaging of this album is perplexing, however, what else would one expect from an artist who received their stage name from a Wu-Tang name generator.
“Algorhythm,” was one of the most anticipated songs by fans prior to the release of this album. The song was initially performed on Glovers “This Is America” tour. “Algorhythm” was also featured on a virtual reality app created by Glover. The song was performed in many variations and the final cut is unique as well. Glover explores ideas of existentialism and human behavior in the social media area.
“Algorhythm” is a play on the word algorithm and here Glover equates human consciousness to a literal algorithm. This is a funk-inspired track that features monotone spoken word from Glover with heavy autotune. The final cut, however, isn’t as enjoyable as the live versions. The mixing sounds like a demo and the conclusion feature chaotic gospel vocals that aren’t pleasant to the ear.
The following track “Time” is one of the bright points on the record. Ariana Grande gives an adequate performance here uplifting the track without overpowering it. This track features laser beam styled synth notes and booming drums. “Time” includes more existentialist lyrics speaking on the urgency of life and questioning what humanity is chasing afterward. A gospel choir progresses into heavy autotune as a piano concludes the song. Glover’s vocals are again heavily filtered making them blend into the production.
“12.38” has minimal production as Glover’s vocal inflections are the focus. Glovers verse dominates most of the track and is finally broken up by vocals from Kadhja Bonet. Bonet’s vocals are assisted by synth chords and piano. 21 Savage takes over briefly delivering funny lyrics such as “I’m on a private jet eatin’ Popeyes chicken, I be flexin’ like I’m eatin’ Popeye’s spinach.”
A sequence of autotuned vocals and disc scratching interrupt Savage’s verse and conclude the song. Glover and Savage teamed up before on the song “Monster,” from Savage’s latest album and “This Is America,” Glover’s biggest hit. The two Atlanta natives have shown their chemistry equates to hit songs.
“19.10” is one of the most enjoyable moments on the entire record. This is a funky song that possesses pop appeal with its catchy hook. The bouncing drums contribute to the dance element of the track. Glover also provides social commentary with the lines “to be happy, really means that someone else ain’t.” This line creates a paradox which is worth exploring. The chorus, “to be beautiful is to be hunted,” furthers this paradoxical idea. References to Glover’s late father accompanied by other lines suggest the commentary is about Glover’s blackness and loving his identity.
The idea of self-love is further explored on the songs “39.28” and “47.48.” On “39.28,” Glover sings to his late father in the lyrics, “I call to a spirit, you may never hear it, how else would I keep you alive,” and the following line, “cause it’s hard for me to love myself without you here.” This is a parallel to “19.10” where Glover speaks on how he learned self-love as a black man from his father.
On “47.48”, the track concludes with a conversation between Glover and his oldest son about love. Glover’s son, Legend, says that he loves himself and Glover reciprocates the same sentiment. Glover goes from struggling with his identity earlier in the record to teaching his own son self-love on “47.48.” “47.48” is not only one of my favorite songs on 3.15.20 but the conversation concluding it makes it the most intimate moment on the album.
“24.19” is one of the slower tracks on the album with laid-back production conveyed by guitar and drums. Glover’s filtered vocal inflection draws inspiration from Frank Ocean. The combination of choir vocals and harp instrumentation brings a tranquil conclusion to the song. “24.19” is in the same lane as the stylings from “Awaken, My Love!.” This ballad sounds like an outro to an album; however, it still fits within the cohesion of 3.15.20. There are many lengthy songs on this album and “24.19” is one of the better-executed ones.
“32.22” was first performed in 2019 at Coachella. “32.22” has been commonly referred to as “Warlords” by fans, however, there has been debate on whether that is the actual song title. This was another highly anticipated song prior to the release of the album. The lyrics are hard to make out as Glover’s voice is heavily manipulated and his delivery is incoherent. The song has high energy and aggression throughout with apocalyptic instrumentation.
“33.22” is a chaotic rendition of afro-pop. The Sound is reminiscent of “Black Skin Head” or “Love Lockdown” by Kanye West. “32.22” is enjoyable, but the live version is more entertaining. This sound was clearly done better by West. Unfortunately, this track could have been executed better but it is still entertaining.
The following song “35.31” is one of the more lighthearted songs Glover has created in terms of sound. On the surface the chorus and instrumentation sound like it came from a children’s movie. A closer look at the lyrics reveal a deeper underlining meaning. Like “Pink Toes” from Glover’s sophomore album Because the Internet, which has an ethereal sound, the song is about selling drugs.
“35.31” has lyrics that depict the same motif. Lines such as, “L’s rolled up and I’m packin’ that heat, 12 roll up and I’m slappin’ them feet,” and “bales got my baby mama nails on fleek,” illustrate this idea. A sudden beat switch on the latter half of the track further contributes as a trap drum pattern is substituted during the chorus. “35.31” is one of my dark horse songs off this album.
“42.26” was his last official release titled “Feels Like Summer.” This song was released in 2018 with the song “Summertime Magic.” Both songs were on the setlist from Glover’s latest tour. However, “Summertime Magic” did not make the album. “42.26” is nearly identical to the original however, there are minimal differences. The final cut lets the beat breathe before coming suddenly to an end where the original fades away in conclusion. Glover layers his voice over synth notes and a soft guitar in this ballad for summer.
Lyrics such as, “every day gets hotter than the one before, running out of water, it’s about to go down” and “birds were made for singing, waking up to no sound” make Glover’s disappointment in the world apparent. These lyrics draw inspiration from Marvin Gaye’s “Mercy Mercy Me.” “42.26” is probably the most palatable track on the whole record. Glover expresses his feelings in a concise and subtle way. Following this template would have increased replay value and impact for the rest of the record.
The final song “53.49”, displays the perfect marriage between the contrasting styles from Glover. The vocal inflection of Glover is reminiscent of his earlier rapping, but the overall soulful tone of the song is derived from “Awaken, My Love!” This song opens with Glover rapping with conviction and urgency in his voice. Autotuned vocals from Glover also handle the adlibs. The verses are broken up with melodic vocals from Glover as well. There is also a gospel inflection to Glover’s voice and in the background singing. The latter half features Glover leading the choir in a chant. This song is a microcosm of Glover’s talents and is one of the best tracks in his discography.
Missing from this album are a few records that were teased on Glover’s latest tour and other performances. “Human Sacrifice” was a song that many fans believed would be on this album but were disappointed for it to be left off. It was even featured in a Google Pixel ad in 2019. Having heard the song in concert twice and listened to the digital recording of it, it would have been one of the better songs off this album.
“This is America” can stand alone however, its exclusion is perplexing considering “Feels like Summer” made the final cut. I personally do not take issue with that decision. The album itself having debuted in one continuous stream is formatted in that mold with songs transitioning seamlessly. Streaming platforms even provide the album in a singular format. This attributes to the cohesion of the album but also hinders the replay value of the songs individually.
Glover has teased the ending of his career for years now. Fans have speculated that Glover is just ceasing the release of music under the “Childish Gambino” moniker. The initial release of this project under the name “Donald Glover Presents” contributes to that perspective. Glover has said he will always create music however, he began his shows from his latest tour saying they were his final performances. Fans have theorized that more music could come in the foreseeable future considering the oddity of the rollout. If this is the case then I will be very intrigued to listen.
Regardless, Glover has inspired a new generation of rappers and creators through his versatility as an artist. If this is indeed Glover’s final album, then I am humbled to have reviewed one of my favorite artists of all time.
Featured image by Christopher Brocker.