Donald Glover, also known by his stage name Childish Gambino, has been labeled as a “Renaissance Man,” and it’s hard to deny it. Even within the realm of music, Gambino has proven to be a cultural titan with a surprising amount of genre versatility. Songs like 2016’s “Redbone” and 2018’s “This Is America” are tracks that’ll go down as generation-defining, elevating Gambino’s legacy.
In an effort to add onto that legacy, Gambino saw fit to stream roughly an hour’s worth of new music on a now-deleted website titled “Donald Glover Presents” during the early hours of March 15. Mysteriously, the stream disappeared no more than a day after it was posted, much to the dismay of fans who were desperate for his new music. Thankfully, the full tracklist was released on streaming services late last Sunday, with the formal title “3.15.20.”
This surprise 57-minute, 12-track project primarily consists of Gambino singing his way through a collection of elegantly mixed, experimental R&B songs. Aside from two tracks, each song is titled after the time at which the song begins on the album. Elements of pop and electronic music are riddled throughout the majority of the tracklist, making for a mostly eclectic listening experience.
In terms of rapping and lyricism, the album’s second track, “Algorithm,” serves as an early highlight, with Gambino’s sinister flow and delivery pairing well with the booming industrial drums. Right after this, “Time” comes in to offer a straight-up charming summertime groove. The lush acoustic guitars, charming synth drums and tasteful Ariana Grande feature make this a song worth revisiting.
“12.23” is a compelling, intoxicating track for several reasons. Its glitchy, yet simple production contains oddly satisfying synth waves and percussion chimes that are sure to capture the listener. These sounds back Gambino’s soulful, charismatic singing as he tells a story about a short fling with a girl gone wrong. Ink, Kadhja Bonet and 21 Savage contribute their own solid verses on the track. Ink and Bonet’s voices are mixed into the production gorgeously, while 21 Savage drops quotable after quotable.
A majority of the album’s shining moments are admittedly packed into the first portion of the project, but there are still more gems to discover within this tracklist. While the lyrics on “24.19” aren’t exactly top-notch, it’s still an endearing love song that comes packaged with a powerful vocal performance from Gambino and heavenly harp strums that elevate the emotion.
However, to revisit the topic of lackluster songwriting, “39.28” isn’t exactly memorable. Gambino’s voice effects are somewhat compelling, but the production and the chorus — which is primarily “Why go to the party?” — simply doesn’t hold a light to the majority of the other songs on the album.
“32.22” is by far the hardest song not to skip on this project. Gambino’s heavily edited vocals make him impossible to understand, and the production just comes off as plain annoying after about 30 seconds. “35.31” definitely won’t be everyone’s style, especially for fans of Gambino’s rapping. It has a strong country influence behind it and can serve as an earworm for some, but it generally doesn’t add a whole lot of value to the tracklist and can easily be written off as goofy.
One of the most emotionally powerful moments on this project comes in how the last two tracks feed into each other. “47.48” displays Gambino singing about the dangers of exposing youth to violence, which then goes into an adorable recorded conversation he has with his son on the topic of self-love. This all culminates into “53.49,” which is a cathartic celebration of life and success backed with soulful, funk-heavy vocals.
Calling “3.15.20” a groundbreaking release from Gambino would be a little too generous, but it’s definitely one that has a decent amount of moments worth taking note of. Gambino’s performance throughout a majority of these tracks doesn't miss a beat, the production is lively and it’s generally delightful to casually shuffle through these tracks — even if there are large fluctuations in quality at times. Replay value is an important quality to have within one’s music, and it seems like the Renaissance Man is one step closer to mastering this skill.
Contact Julian Denizard at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter @Breeze