“Full of southern trap inspired sounds and classic mixtape reinterpretations of hit songs…”
Childish Gambino has always kept his fans guessing, and has always kept his fans excited for what is coming next. His last project, ‘Because the Internet’ showcased a new side of Gambino; a side of Gambino that was conceptual, contemplative, focused, and progressive. The album’s multi-layered and multi-media experience had the internet buzzing. So when less than a year after his 2nd studio album he started hinting towards the release of a mysterious project he was working on, there was no shortage of excitement. With no release date, the project’s sudden appearance online came as a pleasant surprise to everyone.
‘STN MTN / Kauai’ is a double sided project with the ‘STN MTN’ side as a Gangsta Grillz mixtape complete with commentary from DJ Drama and the famous “gansta gizzle” ad lib from Lil Jon. However, what comes off as a “ROYALTY” mixtape rehash goes deeper than what may come out on the first listen. The albums starts with a monologue where CG depicts a dream of Atlanta throwbacks. In this same dream he says he had his own Gangsta Grillz mixtape. By abruptly ending the album on “Go DJ” with the words “… and then I woke up”, he creates this meta, inception-like, “was it real” concept to just mess with your brain.
Concept aside, Gambino’s intent on the mixtape seems to be to prove that he is bonafide Atlanta. Full of southern trap inspired sounds and classic mixtape reinterpretations of hit songs, the album strategically starts with Gambino spitting over top of Ludacris’ classic “Southern Hospitality” and then transitions to “Partna Dem” by Rich Kidz, both Atlanta artists. ‘STN MTN’ is full of great gems. Where “U Don’t Have to Call” gives us a taste of the softer side of Gambino we might be more familiar with, “All Y’all” encapsulates the Gangsta Grillz feel perfectly. The mixtape can loosely be summarized by the line “God damn, I’m just being who I am / From that weird ass little kid to this ballin’ ass grown man” which speaks to the establishment of a tougher, Atlanta born-and-raised side of Gambino that we are presented with.
Despite this portrait ‘STN MTN’ gives us, ‘Kauai,’ the B-Side EP of this project, presents us with an entirely new style. Starting off with his single “Sober”, which sounds like a Bruno Mars and Kanye West collaboration, the tone is set early for this part of the project. With a singing to rapping ratio at about 3:1, ‘Kauai’ shows a much more poppy side of Gambino, and with “The Palisades” sounding like an early 2000s Justin Timberlake throw-away instrumental, this side of Gambino seems to draw influence from many pop icons. The album also adds to the story of The Boy, the protagonist from ‘Because the Internet.’ However, this time he is portrayed by internet legend Jaden Smith, who contributes some spoken word that tells the story of an adolescent boy on the beach with a girl in Kauai. Despite this silliness, ‘Kauai’ does have some replay value with songs like “Poke”, an OutKast-esque jam with an awesome verse from Gambino’s brother Steve G Lover.
Perhaps Gambino’s most braggadocious (but sincere) statement on the entire project comes on “Move That Dope / Nectel Chirp / Let Your Hair Blow” when he raps “I’m just making culture.” Gambino is pushing the boundaries of Hip-Hop, embracing new forms of marketing and exploring new musical frontiers. Although musically this might not be Childish Gambino’s most solid effort, experimentally it goes above and beyond. What the sudden release of ‘STN MTN / Kauai’ proves to Childish Gambino fans is not only is he embracing yet another (or two) new phases of artistry, but that after all he’s put us through, he still has a number of tricks under his sleeve.