Free the Music: Childish Gambino – 'Culdesac'

NEW YORK - JUNE 03:  Actor Donald Glover perfo...

Image by Getty Images North America via @daylife

Free the Music is a guide to new albums, EPs and songs that are available for free online. Today’s drop isChildish GambinoCuldesac.

Donald Glover lives a charmed life. At 26, he’s been a YouTube sensation with Derrick Comedy, wrote for the critically-acclaimed comedy “30 Rock,” and stars in another hit NBC comedy, “Community.”

Then there’s his hip-hop side-project, Childish Gambino. Glover showed promise on his first mixtape, I’m Just A Rapper, juggling odd, multi-syllabic rhymes while matching his flow to popular indie tunes. I’m Just A Rapper 2 felt like a re-run you’ve seen too many times: The rhymes sounded slathered together on short notice, the choice of instrumentals less-focused.

Now, Glover’s released his “official” release, Culdesac. Though the high quality piano introduction on “Difference” should inform a defiant and all together vibrant album, it doesn’t. In fact, the overwhelmingly overproduced nature of the album’s first two tracks sound gaudy and out of place, and highlight Glover’s oft-off beat rhyme schemes.

With I’m Just A Rapper, Glover leaned on a handful of stereotypical rap crutches (money, women, power), but created a unique lyrical narrative different than the over-the-top gangsterisms that pervades many overplayed hip-hop tropes. Yet, with Culdesac, Glover sounds stuck on repeat even when the beats below his vocals have a fresh-out-of-the-studio sheen.

On Culdesac, Glover leans harder on hip-hop thematic crutches, and uses them as a gateway to inform listeners of his charmed life. Yes, it’s important to talk about what you know. But with Culdesac, listeners could play a drinking game called “Tina Fey,” wherein you drink every time Fey’s name is mentioned. Chances are you’ll be drunk halfway through the album. Glover spends a lot of the album talking about how great he is, but it comes off as more insecure than truthful.

It’s not all bad. “Do Ya Like” has a fantastic electro-rap flow with one brilliant sample-based hook. And Glover even gets to deliver his best line of the record: “NBC is not the only thing I’m coming on tonight.” Yes, it’s juvenile, and Glover is up front about it in the song, but it’s a rare spot of lyrical brilliance in an underwhelming album. When things align, Glover seems to have all the talent in the world. But, for better or worse, Culdesac is merely a document that shows just how fallible an ambitious, creative person can be.

You can download Culdesac for free here.


7 Comments Add Yours ↓

  1. ledzep1968 #

    I want to start by saying this is a horrible review. You just looked for any minuscule reason to rip apart this album. You started out by saying “Donald Glover lives a charmed life” and later say that he uses his music to inform listeners of his charmed life. Well i guess you’ve just been missing all the parts were he informs listeners of his not so charmed life before he became famous. Also you mention that listeners could play a drinking game by drinking every time he mentions Tina Fey. Listeners if you do decide to play this game will be left very disappointed seeing as Fey is only mentioned three times on a fifteen track album. You try to put Donald down when you say he uses “stereotypical rap crutches (money,women,power)” but then say that his best lyric of the album is “NBC is not the only thing I’m coming on tonight”. If you didn’t realize he is talking about squirting his semen on women. Obviously his use of “rap crutches” appealed to you and I don’t understand why you’re putting him down for it. While I’m talking about that lyric I want to point out that you also said that it was “a rare spot of lyrical brilliance in an underwhelming album”. Although I enjoy this line, I agree that it is crude but also find it quite simple. I also want to point out that he has many more of these crude “punch line” type of lyrics and therefore can’t see how you can say it was “a rare spot” of brilliance. In my opinion Donald’s best line of the album is “Girls who turned me down are saying please and sorry. You lucky that I’m Randy, Aziz Ansari”. Even though it’s a little immature, I feel this is also a much better example of Mr. Glover’s “lyrical brilliance”

  2. Leor Galil #

    Seriously? This is a horrible comment: You looked for any reason to rip apart my piece without giving much of any thought. You listened to an album filled with exaggerations, yet balk at a humorously-tinged poke at Glover resting on his Tina Fey laurels way to much as a way of pointing out how awkward it all seemed.

    Clearly you are a fan. You write yourself in circles about that, and it obviously blinded you from realizing that, I too enjoy Glover’s hip-hop, as I mentioned in this review. I was pleasantly surprised by I Am Just A Rapper, and the new album sounded piecemeal in comparison.

    But that’s my opinion. Frankly, your critiques don’t point out much more than your absolute love of Glover. And that’s great! Doesn’t mean his album is any good. And somehow trying to take down my review by pointing out my favorite line happened to fall into the areas-of-weakness I found boring. That doesn’t make my point any less valid or true, especially when your favorite line, your opinion points to another line you consider “a little immature.” That’s bullshit. I call it brilliant because of its simplicity, which you pointed out yourself: It’s a simple flip-of-the-script that was employed quite affectively and doesn’t rely too heavily on one’s knowledge of pop culture like the Aziz Ansari line (I enjoy RAAAAAAAANDY, but I wonder how many people heard that and weren’t able to connect the dots.) Some great pop music lines are, at the heart, merely simple phrases worded just right.

    But, apparently doesn’t matter that much. My fairly practical criticisms don’t seem to matter unless I absolutely love everything, right?

  3. Leor Galil #

    Also, please don’t confuse my introduction as a means of me “wanting to take Donald down” or something like that. I believe Donald has a lot of talent in him, and that introduction was meant to display my surprised disappointment.

  4. iamjustafan #

    Well I disagree with almost everything that you’ve said in this review but I know that’s you’re opinion and I respect. For me though, his lyrics were brilliant. Donald glover raps about his charmed life? his track entitled the last does everything but that as well as a few others. He raps about what’s important to him which is a lot more than I can say for other rappers and as far as him mentioning tina fey too much. She’s his mentor. What rapper doesn’t mention his mentor? Drake-lil Wayne eminem-dre kanye-jay z lil Wayne-birdman….I mean the list goes on and on so for ripping him on that seems a little odd considering many rappers do it in many of their songs and actually the best ones do.But according to you, because he mentions her a few times and looks up to her in life and comedy and wants to mention her on his cd where he talks about her giving him confidence as a rapper, that somehow downgrades the track or album? Seems a little ridiculous.

  5. Leor Galil #

    So, let me get this straight: Because every other rapper talks about their mentor it’s therefore OK for him to? So following the pack makes him “unique?”

    For the record, I do think Donald is unique. I was taken to I AM JUST A RAPPER despite its poor production of the backing tracks (man, hearing the singing on the original tunes was frustrating) because his lyrics on that album were brilliant. He discussed the issues of his life growing up and the issues of newfound fame in realistic ways with wit and great turns of phrase. Culdesac sounded significantly watered-down, and his defiant, snarl-inflected voice from the first two mixtapes had entirely disappeared. So did a lot of witticisms, or at least the cleverly-executed ones. So did the commonalities between his current life and former life. And so did the lack of awkwardness: He made rapping over Grizzly Bear work. Hearing him drop Tina Fey’s name – no matter what the significance is, and you make a great point there – sounded awkward. So many of the things I enjoy about Glover’s abilities as a rapper were drowned out in what sounded like second-and-third-tier Drake tunes and a rush-to-produce record.

  6. iamjustafan #

    i agree with you on many parts of your reply but still disagree on a couple. first, yes just because other rappers mention their mentor and donald glover does as well does not really make him unique but i was just trying to point out he is not the first to do so and you acknowledged that. second, we both agree he is very unique but i still i disagree with you on his lyrics for this album. i think that they’re were still witty and as good as previous mixtapes but it’s just a difference of opinion. lastly, for me hearing the tina fey drops weren’t really that akward or bad for me. i thought they were nicely used where he used them but once again just difference of opinion. i also like to point out something that i thought was amazing in this album, which was the rap to R&B transition from song to song. he really sung very well when he changed it up which was a pleasant suprise. All in all i think you definitely make some valid points but i still have my disagreements but that’s just difference of opinion and i respect that.

  7. Leor Galil #

    And I respect your comments and you writing in. As you said, we’ve got different opinions, but there’s nothing wrong with that. This is just my opinion, and I realize others disagree, but, so it goes!

    Thanks again for your comments, I really appreciate it.

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