So this is how the world ends. Sitting at home with the door closed, singing happy birthday twice whilst washing our hands, and a mass charge to every Walmart toilet roll aisle there is. It’s not quite how I imagined the apocalypse. But then, nothing quite turns out as you expect.
Take Childish Gambino’s latest album for example. Anticipated since the seminal release of “This Is America” in 2018, this was meant to be the BIG one of 2020. The one that everyone talked about, the one that put Donald Glover front and center of the music scene. Instead that scene is a haze of uncertainty, and Childish Gambino’s fourth record has appeared in its midst, just for a fleeting day, before disappearing like a leaf in the wind.
For those of us who just so happened to be sat at home scrolling the internet (in other words, everyone in western civilization), this was half a welcome surprise and half an inducer of terrible dread. That is to say, this was either real, or a confirmation that isolation had finally caused us all to hallucinate. I seemed to think it was the latter; but that didn’t stop me pressing play. And thank God I did, because it soon dawned on me that nothing in my subconscious could conjure up anything this good.
Donald Glover Presents is real, that’s for sure, and it’s undoubtedly his best work yet. The album kicks off with the track “Warlords”, ominous heavy breathing rotates around the headphones, before tumbling into bass led verses centered on aggression and violence. This is continued in later cuts such as “Don’t Worry About Tomorrow” and “Time”, featuring Ariana Grande, where the pair sing of running out of time and the skies falling down upon our world.
If “This Is America” was a comment on the world’s stubbornness to focus more on dancing trends and distraction than the violence that actually surrounds them, then Donald Glover Presents is a more thorough exploration of the same thing. Gambino spends the hour long run time lamenting on America’s inherent flaws. Gun crime, racism, police brutality, fire stained riots, and the seemingly never-ending violence. But it’s not all bad news. The saving grace of love, both between partners and family, is prevalent among the chaos. Glover writes of feeling the world around him ‘slow down’ in a ‘breath of fresh air’ when he’s with his loved one, spinning the frantic heavy breaths of the opening track into something more hopeful. In the last track, harps pluck sweetly as the words ‘thank you because I love you’ are repeated over and over again, a realization of the relief that love can bring in times of turmoil.
After all, this is the simple key to every issue the album presents. The answer to fire and violence can only always be love and kindness. The ability to watch out for each other, to understand the differences, the inequality, the anger. Simple? Yes. But true. And Gambino relays this truth with a beautiful efficiency.
As for it’s release, perhaps the timing and method were also the perfect mix with our situation at the moment. It seemed that everyone clicked play at the same time on Sunday, and the message that we got was one of calm among the calamity. Breathe deep, love hard, and just for a moment, the chaos outside will slow.
Stay safe everyone. And keep listening to the music.