Childish Gambino’s “3.15.20” has bright spots but lacks artistic vision

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Rapper Childish Gambino’s new album leaves much to be desired.

Ethan Myers, Opinons Editor

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Childish Gambino’s evolution as an artist is one of the more interesting timelines in modern-day music. In 2011, his debut studio album “Camp” garnered mixed reviews from critics but established a fairly large following from the hip hop community. His success and popularity only grew with 2013’s “Because the Internet.”

Following the release of the 2016 hit TV show “Atlanta”, which he writes, produces and acts in, Gambino (aka Donald Glover) dropped “Awaken, My Love,” an album that saw him ditch nerdy pop rap for funk and neo-soul, and showcased a versatility that was all but absent from his first two projects.

Capitalizing off the mainstream success of “Awaken, My Love,” he released “This is America,” a groovy yet sharp commentary on the black experience in America. It would go onto winning him four Grammys and catapulting Gambino into superstardom (he went on to star as a young Lando Calrissian in “Solo: A Star Wars Story” and voiced Simba in the live-action “Lion King”).

Now it’s 2020, and many fans and critics alike were eager to see where Gambino would go next with his musical career.

Enter “3.15.20.”

The rollout of this album was strange. It originally streamed on March 15 (as the name of the album suggests) via his website on a loop. After 12 hours, the stream was taken down and soon after a week-long countdown appeared. When the countdown concluded, “3.15.20” was released to all streaming platforms, with a blank white background as the album cover and timestamps replacing 10 of the 12 track titles.

The album kicks off with “0.00.” It is a compelling introduction to the album with its droning synths and drowned-out vocals, but it goes nowhere and the three-minute runtime feels unnecessary.

Following the intro, we get the only titled tracks on the album: “Algorythm” and “Time.” “Algorythm” is futuristic dance tune that draws heavy influence from Gorillaz and tackles the idea of an inevitable takeover of technology. The last minute of the track makes a failed attempt at turning a fairly average dance groove into something experimental. “Time” features guest vocals from Ariana Grande and incorporates elements of gospel, pop and R&B, but like the introduction, it overstays its welcome. Both songs have been anticipated since being debuted during previous live performances. 

“12.38” gives us the first taste of soul on the album. Gambino delivers an evocative performance, but the instrumental has very little to offer. 21 Savage is a nice complement to the song.

The next three tracks, “19.10,” 24.19” and “32.22,” follow a similar pattern: they have interesting and sometimes catchy moments, but could use some fleshing out and are frankly unmemorable.

Then comes “35.31,” which is one of the more questionable tracks on the album. The melody sounds like a jingle straight out of a McDonald’s commercial and it doesn’t help that it’s repeated a million times.

On “39.28,” Gambino gives us three minutes of harmonized vocals that don’t build up to anything significant. Its incompleteness gives it the feel of an interlude.

“42.26” is an old friend: Gambino’s 2018 single, “Feels like Summer.” This breezy summertime cut still sounds as great as it did when it came out, but I’m not completely sure as to why it’s on this album. It doesn’t necessarily fit within the tracklist, but is a bright spot nonetheless.

“47.48” is another highlight where Gambino is seemingly having a conversation with his son about the violent world that he brought him into. When Gambino battles with these types of subjects, his music stands alone in the industry. He has an unique perspective and delivers it in a genuine way. Unfortunately on this album those moments are few and far between.

“3.15.20” wraps up with “53.49,” an energetic, off-the-wall cut where Gambino raps like a madman, but also delivers a soulful chorus in one of his best vocal performances on the album. It’s a great way to end the project, but leaves me wishing he had displayed this kind of energy earlier on.

Like Gambino himself, the album is difficult to tie down. It explores a variety of sounds, subjects and blends multiple genres. While that versatility and jack-of-all-trades style has birthed the Childish Gambino/Donald Glover that we all know and love, it ultimately feels like the downfall of this album. 

Considering the blank album cover and lack of track titles, on first glance or listen, “3.15.20” might seem like a side project or a mixtape, but with the inclusion of “Algorythm,” “Time” and “Feels like Summer” (or “42.26”), it’s hard shrug it off as just a compilation of demos.

Compelling ideas are presented throughout “3.15.20,” but they either fizzle out or disappear just as fast as they arrive. It is a fairly easy listen and has its share of enjoyable cuts, but those good moments are separated by head-scratching choices, giving the album a lack of any real focus or cohesion. It’s difficult to see what the artistic vision was, if there was any at all.

Coming off the massive success of “Awaken, My Love” and “This is America,” along with an already established acting career in his back pocket, Childish Gambino continues to ascend towards the peak of his powers. As we’re all bathing in monotony and waiting for COVID-19 to pass, there was never a better chance for Gambino to take the next leap in his musical career, and I can’t help but feel like this was a missed opportunity.