Jonathan Janssen – Reviewer
The phrase “R&B legends” brings a diverse range of artists to mind. Names like Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, R. Kelly, Prince, Justin Timberlake and Usher will inevitably find their place in future history books chronicling the rhythm and blues genre. With his new release Kauai, Donald Glover, known professionally as Childish Gambino, has set into motion his appeal for a spot in R&B history.
Where does one begin with a man as multifaceted as Donald Glover? A quick glance at his accomplishments show Glover as a screenwriter for NBC’s 30 Rock, a successful stand-up comedian, a talented actor and voice actor and a powerful rapper. With a résumé as extensive as his, Glover has earned the right to reach for a position among legends.
In order to understand Kauai, one should ideally go back to December 2013, when Gambino’s second album Because the Internet took hip hop culture by storm. Flashing his talent in the face of previous critics who thought that his musical artistry skills were underdeveloped, Gambino created a cohesive story – complete with a screenplay, multiple short films, a visually rich and audience-assisted tour, and rumors of a possible video game – which hooked fans and critics alike.
A year later, Childish Gambino has once again switched roles. Flaunting his acclaimed singing skills, Gambino’s Kauai boasts seven songs, each with its own distinct feel. “Sober,” an obviously Michael Jackson-inspired bubblegum pop song, sees Gambino putting his falsetto skills to good use over an 80’s sounding beat. Multiple “hoo’s” and “woop’s” in a beat switch near the end of the song complete the MJ allusion.
“Pop Thieves (Make It Feel Good)” sounds more modern, with a production-heavy beat and Gambino even making use of the ever-popular autotune on the chorus. Minimalist lyrics and a switch to bongo drums with a surprising appearance of spoken word poetry by Jaden Smith at the end easily make this track the best on the album. Further into the album, Gambino channels Justin Timberlake in “The Palisades (feat. Christian Rich).” Everything from the beat, which could have been stolen off of JT’s 2002 album Justified, to his seductive solos and boisterous chorus proclaiming “Love don’t really happen,” give off the signature Timberlake sound.
The rest of the album sees Gambino making a bold return to his rap on “Poke (feat. Steve G Lover III)” – Steve G Lover III being Gambino’s little brother and a hot addition to the track – and “Late Night In Kauai,” which again features spoken-word poetry from Jaden Smith. The last song “3005 (Beach Picnic Remix)” is an instrumental hearkening back to Because the Internet with a calm remix to his hit single “3005.”
With Kauai, Childish Gambino has thrown his hat into the R&B ring. Having already flexed his vocals to much praise with songs like “Centipede,” “Telegraph Ave.,” and “Urn,” Gambino listened to his fans and critics begging him for an R&B album, and it was exactly what they expected: a cohesive EP with exactly the right amount of individuality that makes it a signature Gambino hit.