Music

Childish Gambino's '3.15.20' Captures the Tumultuous Contemporary Moment

Photo: Pavielle Garcia / RCA Records

As society contends with sickness, anger, and fear, Donald Glover remedies the malignancy while fueling the anguish. 3.15.20 signals an important shift for Childish Gambino and secures the album's spot as one of the best of the year.

3.15.20
Childish Gambino

RCA

March 2020

The true pleasure in watching Donald Glover evolve as an actor, musician, and cultural critic is anticipating his disruption of expectations. In each manifestation, and with each cultural contribution, Glover deliberately defies intention and probability. As Childish Gambino, the recent release 3.15.20 is an astute cultural examination of the current political and social situation while also avowing love and humanity. The rollout of 3.15.20 was a little clunky, first appearing on donaldgloverpresents.com then disappearing only to have a few tracks stream continuously. Regardless of whether this was a tactic to score more attention, the result is perfectly timed. As COVID-19 forces individuals into accepting the digital connection and subsequent social disconnect, society is ensconced in the digital realm more than ever. Glover wasn't exactly predicting social distancing, but 3.15.20 is prophetic in its criticism of the exceedingly blurred overlap between humanity and the digital. A disconnect Glover defines as exasperated by the current health crisis and the underlying oppressive social norms.

"Algorhythm" presents 3.15.20's thesis. The track warns of the erosion of individuality and humanity caused by technology's power. Glover specifically takes issue with Big-Tech's algorithms for tracing and capturing users' digital fingerprints. According to the artist, we, as a society, are compliant. The addiction to technology puts humanity under erasure and embraces the "Supercomputer status, walkin' along streets / Everyone is an addict, stumbling concrete / What was the motivation? Constant communication." Glover's self-awareness is on point: he realizes technology enables the unfurling of his creativity and impact on popular culture.

Consider the moniker Childish Gambino, derived from the automated online Wu-Tang Clan name generator. Rather than calling himself out, he robotized his voice, suggesting he, as Childish Gambino, is already fully situated within the cyborgian. But it's not too late as made evident by the sample of the 1990s hit "Hey Mr. D.J." by Zhane. Even as a fragment, the sample connects with his past, reaffirming humankind, and pulling his soul back from the digital vortex. Glover is quick to address the universality of the tech/human spectacle. "Time", featuring Ariana Grande, contends the issue is global as "seven billion people trying to free themselves".

In 3.15.20, and manifested in other projects, Glover centralizes the space where popular culture is a tool to build awareness and feed distraction. On first listen, "12.38" (featuring 21 Savage, Ink, and Kadhja Bonet) sounds like a classic funk song illustrating a lusty relationship. Here Glover's subtlety is masterful. With references to bell hooks, N.K. Jemison, and mass incarceration, the track is politically charged. Likewise, the country music inflections purposely misrepresent "35.31". The faux-levity hides the focus on drug dealing and the associated violence. Glover forces the listener to realize the track's purpose when he drops the instrumentation to highlight the lyrics "Quarter brick, half a brick, whole brick." These tracks are catchy and danceable -- a construct knowingly diverting their significant social commentary.

Glover revisits this technique in "Feels Like Summer". An indelible radio-hit, the title and instrumentation lull the listener into falsely assuming it will be mellow. It isn't: it's about climate change and its perilous impact. Glover draws the listener towards "Running out of water / Air that kill the bees that we depend upon / Birds were made for singing / Waking up to no sound." He quickly, and arguably too expeditiously, identifies capitalism as the root of oppression. Glover again points out this is not an America only problem; these are issues affecting the entire world, made visible by the current pandemic.

In a falsetto echoing Marvin Gaye in "What's Going On", Glover hopes "that this world will change", an imploration voiced by many. Glover's honeyed vocals are short-lived. In "32.22" he mumbles the vocals to such an extent they are indecipherable. Instead, the raucous music and spiraling tempo shifts deliver the urgency. The bass echoes drums of war, a clear reflection of the current hawkish political climate.

Despite the grim reality, Glover holds space for love and sweetness. "24.19" is a Prince-inspired love song evoking a tenderness absent from the rest of the album. "47.48" ends with a dialogue between Glover and his son ruminating on loving themselves. The closer "53.59" ultimately finds Glover reflecting on his upbringing in Atlanta and the inspiration derived from his father's life and death. He arrives at the heartening conclusion that "there is love in every moment".

3.15.20 captures the tumultuous contemporary moment. As society contends with sickness, anger, and fear, Glover remedies the malignancy while fueling the anguish. 3.15.20 signals an important shift for Childish Gambino and secures the album's spot as one of the best of the year.

10
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

Run the Jewels - "Ooh LA LA" (Singles Going Steady)

Run the Jewels' "Ooh LA LA" may hit with old-school hip-hop swagger, but it also frustratingly affirms misogynistic bro-culture.

Books

New Translation of Balzac's 'Lost Illusions' Captivates

More than just a tale of one man's fall, Balzac's Lost Illusions charts how literature becomes another commodity in a system that demands backroom deals, moral compromise, and connections.

Music

Protomartyr - "Processed by the Boys" (Singles Going Steady)

Protomartyr's "Processed By the Boys" is a gripping spin on reality as we know it, and here, the revolution is being televised.

Music

Go-Go's Bassist Kathy Valentine Is on the "Write" Track After a Rock-Hard Life

The '80s were a wild and crazy time also filled with troubles, heartbreak and disappointment for Go-Go's bass player-guitarist Kathy Valentine, who covers many of those moments in her intriguing dual project that she discusses in this freewheeling interview.

Music

New Brain Trajectory: An Interview With Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree

Two guitarists, Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree make an album largely absent of guitar playing and enter into a bold new phase of their careers. "We want to take this wherever we can and be free of genre restraints," says Lee Ranaldo.

Books

'Trans Power' Is a Celebration of Radical Power and Beauty

Juno Roche's Trans Power discusses trans identity not as a passageway between one of two linear destinations, but as a destination of its own.

Music

Yves Tumor Soars With 'Heaven to a Tortured Mind'

On Heaven to a Tortured Mind, Yves Tumor relishes his shift to microphone caressing rock star. Here he steps out of his sonic chrysalis, dons some shiny black wings and soars.

Music

Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras' tētēma Don't Hit the Mark on 'Necroscape'

tētēma's Necroscape has some highlights and some interesting ambiance, but ultimately it's a catalog of misses for Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras.

Music

M. Ward Offers Comforting Escapism on 'Migration Stories'

Although M. Ward didn't plan the songs on Migration Stories for this pandemic, they're still capable of acting as a balm in these dark hours.

Music

Parsonsfield Add Indie Pop to Their Folk on 'Happy Hour on the Floor'

Happy Hour on the Floor is a considerable departure from Parsonsfield's acclaimed rustic folk sound signaling their indie-pop orientation. Parsonsfield remind their audience to bestow gratitude and practice happiness: a truly welcomed exaltation.

Music

JARV IS... - "House Music All Night Long" (Singles Going Steady)

"House Music All Night Long" is a song our inner, self-isolated freaks can jive to. JARV IS... cleverly captures how dazed and confused some of us may feel over the current pandemic, trapped in our homes.

Music

All Kinds of Time: Adam Schlesinger's Pursuit of Pure, Peerless Pop

Adam Schlesinger was a poet laureate of pure pop music. There was never a melody too bright, a lyrical conceit too playfully dumb, or a vibe full of radiation that he would shy away from. His sudden passing from COVID-19 means one of the brightest stars in the power-pop universe has suddenly dimmed.

Music

Folkie Eliza Gilkyson Turns Up the Heat on '2020'

Eliza Gilkyson aims to inspire the troops of resistance on her superb new album, 2020. The ten songs serve as a rallying cry for the long haul.

Music

Human Impact Hit Home with a Seismic First Album From a Veteran Lineup

On their self-titled debut, Human Impact provide a soundtrack for this dislocated moment where both humanity and nature are crying out for relief.

Music

Monophonics Are an Ardent Blast of True Rock 'n' Soul on 'It's Only Us'

The third time's the charm as Bay Area soul sextet Monophonics release their shiniest record yet in It's Only Us.

Film

'Slay the Dragon' Is a Road Map of the GOP's Methods for Dividing and Conquering American Democracy

If a time traveler from the past wanted to learn how to subvert democracy for a few million bucks, gerrymandering documentary Slay the Dragon would be a superb guide.

Music

Bobby Previte / Jamie Saft / Nels Cline: Music from the Early 21st Century

A power-trio of electric guitar, keyboards, and drums takes on the challenge of free improvisation—but using primarily elements of rock and electronica as strongly as the usual creative music or jazz. The result is focused.

Books

Does Inclusivity Mean That Everyone Does the Same Thing?

What is the meaning of diversity in today's world? Russell Jacoby raises and addresses some pertinent questions in his latest work, On Diversity.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews
Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.