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 Don’t Like, which features a healthy dose of cohort Chief Keef and a memorable drop in from Freddie Gibbs — there’s the all-star Curren$y/Harry Fraud collab Cigarette Boats, a release that further establishes New York’s Harry Fraud as the producer of the moment (Bonus Fraud: Coldplay sample. Video is super NSFW, heads up!). All of these — which doesn’t even include Azealia Banks’ Fantasea, set to drop tonight, are beyond deserving of this space. But, this week’s best tape is from someone who’s often considered a punchline by the fans of this column — Childish Gambino.

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.

Comments (20)
  1. Toxic is a great song but the rest of this mixtape’s pretty underwhelming. Glover just cant keep up with any of his guests. Although I did actually like the Tina Fey part, it sounds bad but that’s kind of the joke.

    • I think part of that is that his guests are so damn good in the first place. Ab-Soul coming in on Unnecessary is one of my favorite parts of the album.

      I think some of the hate on Childish Gambino is a little overblown by “real” hip hop fans. Listening to this album without thinking about Camp and his other releases and honestly I see it as a great mixtape and not just because of his guests. Yet this whole conversation gets pretty stale because I’m enjoying it along with a whole lot of other stuff right now.

  2. You should make compilations of the weeks best mixtape tracks and put those out so we can digest at our leisure.

  3. Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see

    • Not suggesting you haven’t listened, but if you haven’t, give it a shot! Believe you me, I once felt the same way. Or at least download Sasha Go Hard and meet me halfway.

    • I only really started listening to him because I was a fan of derrick comedy and community so I didn’t mind the first few songs mostly because of this remix by Star Slinger:
      But I lost all hope with Camp.
      This however is pretty damn good. I admit the biggest reason I like it is because of the verses from Ab-Soul, Ghostface Killah, and the RZA but there are a few verses that I was Gambino is pretty nice on. He toned down his delivery and the puns. Not that I hated all the puns but they were a bit gimmicky in some songs.The production is on point for most of it too.

  4. I’m pretty tired of hearing of Camp’s “critical scorching”. It’s such lazy blogging. You can link to the infamous Pitchfork 1.6, sure. But you could also link to Christgau’s A-, or The Independent’s 4/5.

  5. Regarding that mixtape drought, did Dom Kennedy’s “Yellow Album” just slip through the cracks around here or is there a reason it’s gone without a mention?

  6. I like Glover, but I always feels like Gambino is rapping like somebody else. Obviously everyone has their inspirations, but his delivery never feels like its own. It’s really fucking annoying.

  7. I don’t think “Used to take the Q home / Now I hang with Schoolboy” is such a bad line.

    Anyway, if Donald Glover was in my 5th grade Language Arts class he’d get the Most Improved award at the end of the year. Seriously.

  8. “Black and white music? Now, nigga, that’s a mixtape”

  9. I honestly don’t understand the hate for Gambino’s wordplay at all. Are some of his lines kind of corny? Sure, but I think more often than not, when he’s throwing punchlines out there, they’re pretty clever.

    I like the mixtape, and I loved Camp as well. Oh well.

  10. Honestly, I’ve always liked Childish Gambino, and here’s why. He’s approachable. As a white dude, it’s hard for me to get into the hard gangsta stuff, and as an only-occasional music blog visitor, it’s hard for me to get into the weird indie rap stuff. Gambino I think walks a line somewhere in the middle (or somewhere else entirely) and that explains some of his appeal.
    I liked Camp and I love this mixtape, both for different reasons.

  11. I liked Camp, but I think CG really stepped it up on this tape with his rhymes and his beats. Clearly has great taste in guests too. Before he was packing puns and punchlines into every line with shaky quality control, but he’s toned that down on this and is only letting the best ones through. Glad to see people giving him another chance and I hope he rewards their faith. Also once again saying I really hope “Tell Me” gets a proper release on something in the future.

  12. So this post is a year old and no one will read this comment, but Fuck Your Blog is seriously the worst indictment of Gambino as a rapper imaginable. He got controlled by Yung Humma and Flynt Flossy, arguably two of the only artists more essentially meme-rap than he is. I’m dumbfounded.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post, reply to, or rate a comment.

%s1 / %s2