Last time I was in this space, pickings were slim, thanks to a bit of a mixtape drought in the immediate time period Kitty Pryde’s conversation-starting Haha, I’m Sorry and Joey Bada$$’s immaculate time capsule 1999 dropped. I ended up going with Lil B’s Green Flame, which was, putting it lightly here, not his best effort (soon after that, he put out a 855-song mixtape). Naturally, Meyhem Lauren put out his tremendous Respect The Fly Shit the next day, a mixtape that’s worthy of being in the Best Of 2012 conversation with the likes of Rozay or Action Bronson. This is how the universe, and thus the world of freely available mixtapes, often works.
This week, as luck would have it, is pretty darn stacked. Outside of a pair of striking releases from Chicago’s on-fire rap landscape — Sasha Go Hard’s assertive debut Do U Know Who I Am? and Lil Reese’s banging
Just like Camp deserved the critical scorching it received, Royalty is a release that proves that, if nothing else, Donald Glover’s Childish Gambino project deserves a reappraisal. While his penchant for tacky wordplay still remains — “Used to take the Q home / Now I hang with Schoolboy” — that tendency is delightfully dampened, as nothing on Royalty approaching the infamous and appalling “I die for my hood/Trayvon” line that ruined a perfectly good Donkey Kong Country sample. Part of Royalty’s success, certainly, is owed to the fact that Gambino lets his guests shine on it. Beck raps on it, which is notable for a lot of reasons. Nipsey Hussle is on “Black Faces,” which is good because I had sworn he had fallen off the face of the earth. Danny Brown comes through and doesn’t hold back on the Britney Spears-sampling “Toxic,” produced by Danny’s DJ skywlkr (“Bank roll thick like that neck on Sabonis,” says Danny). The cameos are equal parts legends (RZA, Bun B, Ghostface) and eager scene newcomers like Kilo Kish or HAIM’s Danielle Haim. I might be going out on a limb here, but even Glover manages to sound like other rappers, channeling people like Meek Mill and Lil B on different points in the album. So, Glover gets out of his own way a little (though it should be mentioned that he produced most of the mixtape).
Audience reception is one thing, and if we’re taking the temperature of most people finding music and talking about it on the Internet, Gambino’s act is considered an irritating novelty, a good example of a famous person doing something just because he can. People, myself included, prayed for the termination of the persona, as we rolled our eyes at stuff like “Gambino is the mastermind/Fuck a bitch to pass the time” and wished out loud for Glover to focus on his (generally very funny) television and standup work. But, what strikes me about Royalty, as opposed to Camp, is just how much the guests show up here. I like to hypothesize that’s the true measure of a rapper’s stature in the community; say what you will about someone like Drake or Waka Flocka, but when guest step onto their records, they bring their A-game. I’m not saying that the cameos are all at that level, but there’s a surprising amount of quality and variety for a free mixtape. You’re welcome to chalk that up to Glover’s celebrity, but to me, it sounds like something else is going on.
Rest assured, Childish is still Childish — “She look like she Spelman, secretly she Hofstra / Put her in the club, all she wanna hear is Waka” — and Tina Fey’s spot on the end of “Real Estate” is quite frankly one of the worst things I’ve ever heard, but Royalty is fun. And in a week packed with music worthy of focus, dedication and patience (Twin Shadow’s Confess, Dirty Projectors’ Swing Lo, Magellan, Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange), Royalty provides a nice change of pace and the most definitive evidence yet that Childish Gambino deserves another chance. The book is still out on Dan Harmon. We’ll see soon.
Download Royalty at Datpiff.