Donald Glover has had a great year. After years of experimenting with acting, rapping and writing, it seems like every aspect of his multifaceted talent have culminated all at once: he’s won a WGA award for writing on 30 ROCK, a TV Guide Award for acting on COMMUNITY, and his one-two musical punch of last year’s EP and his debut studio album CAMP finally gave him the musical recognition he (also) deserves. Now, Glover is back under his Childish Gambino moniker for a television-off-season mixtape, ROYALTY.
And while ROYALTY is less polished, personal and unique than the amazing CAMP was, the mixtape has its own distinct and wonderful flavor, and still happens to be a fantastic release from the young star. Peppered with star cameos – everybody from Beck to RZA; even Tina Fey(!?) makes an appearance – the mixtape is a much more straightforward hip-hop offering than the stylistically diverse CAMP, which should please fans of the genre. Most of the beats are memorable – did I really hear the theme song to SIGNS on “Arrangement”? – and the production is handled mostly by Gambino himself. There are a few outside producers, though; like Beck, who helms two tracks, including the excellent “Silk Pillow”, where he even throws in a verse or two.
In true mixtape fashion, ROYALTY reuses certain cues and motifs that pop up over and over again throughout the tape, to convincing effect. The result is a very cohesive offering that plays like a singular, unified entity, for better or worse; unfortunately, this also has the undesired effect of having all of the songs bleed together in a way that makes the middle of the disc (download?) sort of forgettable after the absolutely stellar opening. Luckily, the album rebounds beautifully in the final quarter, pulling out wonderful beats, verses and hooks (even despite Gambino’s lamentation about them not being hooks on “Bronchitis”), especially on the lush “Wonderful” and “Make it Go Right”.
There are a few real gems in here that Gambino fans will definitely latch onto , specifically the opening track, “We Ain’t Them” and the familiar-sounding “Won’t Stop”. And despite a middle section that drags, it’s still another excellent offering from the ridiculously talented Glover.
Standout tracks: “We Ain’t Them”, “Wonderful” and “Silk Pillow”.