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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Childish Gambino wakes up in ‘Kauai’

Published: October 17, 2014
Section: Arts, Etc.

Childish Gambino’s (Danny Glover) newest release, “STN MTN/Kauai,” has fans and music critics talking. Conceptually, “STN MTN” is a free mixtape that revolves around a dreamland. According to Gambino, the mixtape is a dream that ends when he wakes up on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, one of Gambino’s favorite places. “Kauai” is an EP, and proceeds from album sales go to keeping Kauai clean as well as getting audio devices for police officers. It also features some very interesting people, such as Jaden Smith, who neither sings nor raps in the album. Instead, he speaks in a colloquial manner as if reading out spoken word poetry (or his tweets.) Gambino’s younger brother, Steven G. Lover, is a featured rapper in the family.

“Kauai” begins with “Sober,” a mellow antithesis to every dark and sad breakup song ever made. It’s still full of emotion, though. Gambino sings that he will never be sober now that his relationship is over. At the end of the song, the bass drops, and the key rises, as if he were hitting the high he alludes to in the song. A personal favorite, “Sober” is equally relaxed and emotional.

Gambino follows up with “Pop Thieves (Make It Feel Good),” which refers to the album’s island namesake by opening with the sound of chirping birds. He sings of relationship bliss and the high he gets when he is with the subject of the song. Unlike “Sober,” “Pop Thieves” is about a time when Gambino relies on a relationship to make him happy. The song then stops and continues to waves, bongos and Jaden Smith telling listeners about a romantic walk on the beach. This last part feels strange because Smith’s part seems unprecendented.

In “Retro [ROUGH],” we hear Gambino recreate his 2008 track “Love is Crazy” with a more pop-influenced hook. In this song, Gambino’s progress as an artist is evident. Up tempo and fun, Gambino sings of the potential two people can have together as a couple if they both tried to enter a relationship. He raps “This is World War Three/I’m the new Jay-Z,” referring to his dreams of being a commercially successful artist.

Reminiscent of Michael Jackson, “The Palisades” opens with a repetitious guitar chord. Gambino sings falsetto as he states his desire to be in a happy relationship. Other than being similar to Michael Jackson, this song is rather nondescript.

“Poke” refers to summer days, which “will never fade away.” Gambino then introduces us to his younger brother, who raps about looking past the stress of being in a relationship and how relaxing in Kauai makes everything better.
“Last Night in Kauai” continues the sound of bongos and Jaden Smith, who talks about being with the previously mentioned girl. His voice is immediately followed by Gambino’s, a transition that is so smooth that it is almost unnoticeable. Gambino raps about being in control of his own fate. Rapper Fam’s line at the end of the song asks if one likes something because one actually enjoys it or because everyone else does.

We are then subjected to a rather strange remix of Gambino’s most commercially successful song, “3005,” now titled “V. 3005 Beach Picnic Version.” The original rap verses are noticeably absent and musical components of the original version, such as the crooning high-pitched voices, are mixed into this new island version.

Overall, “Kauai” is an interesting and original EP. While most of the seven songs are catchy, the new version of “3005” will never have the critical praise the original received. “Sober,” “Pop Thieves (Make It Feel Good)” and “Retro [ROUGH]” will be fan favorites. Childish Gambino is only getting better, and his progress is rather exciting. No longer an underdog of the underground music world, Gambino is emerging as a commercial artist.