Childish Gambino – STN MTN
Writing an album review of Childish Gambino feels like an exercise in futility. Much like the upcoming political elections, many people have already made up their minds about this particular candidate and there are few things that will change your mind. It’s easier to be cynical and dismissive. But if you can look beyond the “DUDE IS WHACK GTFO” attack ads found in the comment sections and dig into the actual content, we get glimpses at a vital voice for a generation, even if that voice is still very much a work in progress.
It hasn’t always been easy to enjoy The Artist Named From A Wu-Tang Clan Name Generator. Camp scorched the earth with its outsider artist posturing. The Royalty mixtape found him as the court jester at his own coronation, the sound of one hand clapping while trying to adjust his ill-fitting crown in front of a crowd of his famous friends. Last year’s aptly-titled Because the Internet began to curry favor, as finally he ditched some of his acidic aggressiveness for existential ennui, a portrait of an experimental artist still growing into his rap career, a career in which he is investing his full energy.
Which brings us to STN MTN, which opens with Glover saying he “had a dream” that he ran Atlanta. “Chick-fil-A would be open on Sunday’s…Strippers would get Mother’s day off, and I’d have my own Gangsta Grillz mixtape.” With an intro like that, the beat for “Southern Hospitality” is not only expectant, it’s exuberant. Unfortunately, the results don’t match expectations.
By definition, the mixtape is a nostalgia trip. And like many mixtapes, it’s a mixed bag. For those that want to hear Gambino go in over 10-year-old beats, it’s terrific. But for those expecting to hear Glover’s continued growth, it’s disappointing. Like a dream, beats fade in and out with little cohesion. Rarely does the schtick stick. The energy is live from the top as Nick Banga laces a bouncy beat for “Fucks Given” and he admittedly bodies most of the beats, but it’s too easy to shrug and ask, “What’s the point?”
Tellingly, at one point, Drama asks (accosts) the audience, “Is it too much to ask for lyrics? I mean, it’s 2014.” In actuality, lyrics are often the least-fretted upon component of a quality mixtape. Usually one of Gambino’s greatest strengths, his own lyrics fall short here, even if they are reportedly just freestyles.
With a mixtape set in a dream-like environment, there is surprisingly little of Gambino’s original, outre ideas or even personal anecdotes about his Georgia roots which would be welcome. Instead, listeners get much of the same groan-worthy punchlines and too-specific sex talk that dogged his early work. For an artist with a thought-provoking catalogue and songs like “Worldstar,” this pedestrian effort brings forth disappointment. Perhaps, DJ Drama, it is too much to ask for lyrics in this context.
It is only when Gambino’s fam gets in the mix on the “AssShots” remix does the bar get elevated — not because his Royalty crew has particularly impressive flows, but because its members clearly enjoy each other. It feels like a group of friends freestyling in car, a glimpse of some of the low-key, personalized fun promised in the intro. All too often, listeners are instead reaching for the snooze bar (see “No Small Talk”) and it’s a welcome moment at the end of the tape when Gambino wakes up.
2.5 out of 5
You can download STN MTN here.