Released November 15, 2011
56 min, 6 sec
If Because the Internet is Gambino’s adult years, then CAMP is most certainly Gambino, the rebellious teenager.
Donald Glover had been rapping and putting out albums for years prior to CAMP, but, unlike his acting and comedy careers, his music never really gained much traction until the cult success of Community and his signing with Glassnote, beginning work on his major label debut. CAMP was preceded by a teaser with exclusive tracks in EP, which served as a proper introduction to Gambino for those who didn’t know who he was.
So who is he?
He’s a clever writer, for sure. Almost all of his lines are one-liners, filled to the brim with pop culture references that immediately endeared him to a teenage and early adult audience. His voice had yet to drop, or maybe he was just straining it to pitch it up, which had the unfortunate side effect of making him sound kind of whiny when he raps too fast. But his flow is strong; he never trips over his words, and he can vary his tempo mid-song if necessary. Top level? No. But he’s good.
The songs are all intensely personal, but many of them come wrapped in a facade that Gambino puts up, where he touts his own shit to be the best in the world, alongside a weirdly specific preference for Asian girls, carried over from EP. I’m glad that he dropped this part of his music with Because the Internet, because it honestly can get a little embarrassing to listen to, especially given what we know he’s capable of after this album.
But there are quieter moments, too. The track list isn’t necessarily evenly-split between hard-hitting rap tracks and the more poppy, lighter songs, but they’re there, and they make an impact when they come up. The best one of these, by far, is “Kids,” situated between an aggressively emotional “Hold You Down” and the brutal pounding of “You See Me.” Granted, Gambino’s lyrics mitigate this a bit, especially in the last verse, but the instrumental is still fantastic and conveys a different feeling than the rest of the album.
It might be pretty obvious that I’m not sure how to go about talking about this album, and you’d be right. The bottom line is that CAMP isn’t perfect. Gambino goes to the well of rapper tropes too frequently here, and it tempers the enjoyment one can have of the album. He’s not using his voice the way he should. But CAMP is the culmination of years of work that Donald Glover had put into his Childish Gambino persona, and it’s great to see him finally receive some recognition as a rapper that he’d been striving for. Because the Internet served to be the follow-up that helped rectify the issues that Gambino had with CAMP, and Gambino’s next album after that promises to be even better.