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Album Review: Childish Gambino - Royalty


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Donald Glover is a man of many talents - writer, actor and (as alter ego Childish Gambino) rapper. Royalty is Gambino’s third mixtape and his first following Camp, his critically well-received debut studio album. It picks up where Camp left off and maintains that standard in an impressive 18-track tape.

Childish Bambino RoyaltyRoyalty’s highlights are often those with interesting compositions, such as the dreamy keys of ‘We Ain’t Them’, recalling the sweetness of ‘Sunrise’ from his previous LP.

Among these compositions are many samples - ranging from LL Cool J to Britney Spears. Spears’s ‘Toxic’ is cleverly re-imagined by producer skywalkr into a hard-hitting namesake rap track, one of the album's high points.

There is a huge array of guest spots. Former Wu-Tang Clan members RZA and Ghostface Killah are two of the album’s biggest stars and give predictably solid performances on ‘American Royalty’ and ‘It May Be Glamour Life’, respectively.

The most impressive guests are the more surprising inclusions, though. Notorious genre-juggler Beck co-produces the brilliant ‘Silk Pillow’, offering a superb opening verse that almost tops Gambino’s. The track brings out Beck’s silky Odelay-era flow for the first time in a studio for years, which is a credit to Gambino.

Royalty also has light relief, provided by Gambino’s former 30 Rock colleague and “real gangsta” Tina Fey. “This is the part where most people would say something crazy and drop the n-word after it… I’m not gonna do that. I don’t feel comfortable!” she raps on album closer ‘Real Estate’. It’s a shame that Alley Boy Swank’s input on the same track sounds like a karaoke version of ‘Ni**as in Paris’.

The mixtape is strongest when it focuses on Gambino himself. His wordplay is as clever as ever but his style has evolved to the stage where his best lines are subtler and with it, more impressive. “Fandingo my mandingo, we should start a movie / Groupies lookin’ like the Yakuza in my Jacuzzi” he raps on ‘Toxic’.

As with previous releases, Gambino’s personal life is still a lyrical focal point and his mother in particular features throughout the album’s lines. His line on ‘We Ain’t Them’ - “I got the same speech when I left 30 Rock / My Mum like ‘why you wanna leave a good job?’” – reflects Gambino’s unique selling point. For all his bravado (of which there is still plenty to be found on Royalty) he still comes across as grounded and even fragile at times, as he reflects on his childhood. His personal confessions are a breath of fresh air in the often ultra-macho world of rap.

Royalty may be slightly overlong at 18 songs but mixtapes have always been about content over coherence. And for the most part, the content on Gambino’s latest offering is excellent. Fans will love the tape’s classic Gambino style whilst the production work and guest performances should entice listeners not already seduced by his work. It’s a great album and, considering it’s a free download on Glover's website, it’s well worth a try. You won’t regret it.

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