With the concert industry presently on lockdown, some of our pop stars are stepping it up in the studio by delivering assured albums for these uncertain times. Hot on the heels of the The Weeknd's brilliant After Hours last week, Childish Gambino returns with another sterling release confirming him as one of pop music's most vibrant creatives. Here are five things you need to know about 3.15.20:
1. It is a timely release
While The Weeknd's album dropped on schedule, Gambino tinkered with his project to reflect the times.
It was originally credited to his real name, Donald Glover Presents, and the album was previewed in a 12 hour continuous stream on Sunday, March 15. It also came with cover art featuring a large crowd standing in solidarity.
All that has been jettisoned.
Not only was the project released under the alter ego Childish Gambino, the album’s title was changed to reflect the date it was originally streamed and the cover art was dropped for a blank white image.
While Gambino has yet to comment on these changes, you can’t help but feel these decisions were made in the wake of the present pandemic.
Ditching the crowded cover image is surely in response to the present era of social distancing, while removing most of the song titles and replacing them with time-stamps could indicate this is a project meant to be heard as a playlist on continuous repeat – which is perfect for our present bouts of self-isolation.
2. The album gives you the vibes
Gambino continues his thrilling, and for some, infuriating traits of wrong footing his fans. Those expecting a repeat of the lush gospel soul of his 2016 break-out album Awaken My Love will be disappointed.
Instead 3.15.20 continues with the sounds he has been playing with since 2018 – a year where he dropped a slew of singles with doses of modern RnB, spacey funk and abrasive production similar to industrial rock.
But these varied elements are beautifully curated in 3.15.20 to give you various vibes. Time is an example of Gambino's restless muse: it rides on a beat that could have come from a vintage arcade game and layered with woozy guitars and croon style recalling mid-1990's Lenny Kravitz. While 24.19 finds Gambino in full Otis Redding soul mode and comes complete with rippling harps.
32.22 is the most challenging listen. The increasing intensity of the war drums recalls Kanye West's Black Skin Head, while the claustrophobic vocoder laced singing also tips its head to the likes of trap-hip hop stars Travis Scott and Future.
3. He remains a stylish hip-hop journalist
Unlike the individualism of his hip-hop peers, Gambino's observational lyrics have always been journalistic. 3.15.20 continues his interests in discussing societal issues and present day trends. While the album lacks the furious rallying cry of This is America, Gambino spreads his concerns across the board as he tackles everything from social media to economic disenfranchisement.
In Algorithm he looks at how technology affected the way we consume art everyday lives in general. He raps in the opening lines, "Supercomputer status, walkin' along streets / Everyone is an addict, stumbling concrete / What was the motivation? Constant communication."
In 19.10 he comments on the increasing commercialisation of African American culture, rapping: "But someone's gonna smell your funk / You're exactly what they want / To be happy really means that someone else ain't / And balance ain't a one-food plate / Everything is give and take."
4. Ariana Grande makes a low key appearance
When Gambino asks you to appear on a track, it's because he is looking for a specific sound. You get the feeling that was the advice given to Grande, who gracefully dialled down her signature histrionics to deliver sultry vocals to complement the futuristic soul sounds of Time. Also making an appearance is 21 Savage whose laid back drawl perfectly suits the ambient trap vibes of 12.38
5. One song could be the next 'Old Town Road'
3.15.20 is not blessed with club bangers, but 35.31 has the potential to become a track to be cherished and loathed in equal measure.
Like Old Town Road it has a summery country music twang and a chorus resembling a nursery rhyme. In short, it is tailor made to go viral on TikTok.