Curiously alluring, Childish Gambino creates a two part project consisting of a mixtape and LP that are as analogous to each other as night and day. STN MTN is a hard-hitting Southern style mixtape hosted by DJ Drama while Kauai is a pop-infused, indie R&B type album. The shared theme of this concept album is difficult to recognize when STN MTN is goofy and playful where Kauai is thought-provoking and honest. My guess is that the main constituent that connects the two is simply the man who created them.
The mixtape starts off with Bino’s rendition of the “I Have A Dream” speech with his ideal future including strippers getting mother’s day off and Chick-Fil-A being open on Sundays. From there, the album rapidly picks up speed as he raps vigorously over a collection of prevalent Southside beats.
Any listener that wasn’t aware of Donald Glover’s ATL roots will get the hint early on in the tape. Borrowing tracks from ATL artists such as K Camp in “Money Baby”, Future in “Move That Dope” and Ludacris in “Southern Hospitality”, Bino makes sure you won’t soon forget where he came from. In “No Small Talk”, Glover features Little Rock rapper Kari Faux whose sexy Arkansas drawl gives listeners the southern hospitality that Glover’s voice lacks. Because let’s face it; Childish Gambino will never sound like any of the classic Atlanta rappers. His name alone is enough to keep him from fitting in. Bino may be successful in proving he can switch styles in the drop of a hat but when he raps unnecessarily graphic lines about his sex life, it’s exceedingly obvious that the gangster in him is a bit forced.
There might be a couple face-palming lines here and there but you can’t refrain from getting hype off the fifth track “Move That Dope / Nextel Chirp / Let Your Hair Blow”. I never thought I’d dig Childish Gambino rapping over gunshots but if there’s one thing you can learn from Donald Glover, it’s never say never. Bino adapts to each of the distinctly different beats with a fluid flow making this track stand out.
In the midst of his efforts to create a “Gangsta Grillz” mixtape, Glover still refuses to shed his comedy persona. “Childish Gambino @ The Atrium” is a straight minute and a half of a generic radio personality promoting a Childish Gambino show. Poking fun at rap promoters, the ad states that the special guests include “every Atlanta athlete ever” and promises that if you are on the Atlanta twerk team, know someone on the Atlanta twerk team or bring the Atlanta twerk team, you’ll get in absolutely free. The track is ridiculous, ludicrous, and oh so Childish. Bino follows up the satire with a cover of Usher’s “U Don’t Have to Call”. The chorus sings beautifully and the freestyled background vocals soften the seriousness in his poetically spoken words as he successfully shifts from one sound to another.
Switching gears entirely, Kauai starts off so tame in comparison to STN MTN that it’s almost confusing. Defined by its Beiber-like crooning and boy band beat, “Sober” sounds a little too high school for my personal tastes but the second track “Pop Thieves (Make It Feel Good)”, plays more maturely with an exciting synthesizer build-up and catchy chorus while still maintain the pop-like sound. If the first track is comparable to J-Biebs, “Pop Thieves” would be described as more Usher-esque. For those who aren’t up to date with Childish Gambino’s previous releases, you’re gonna be hella lost when Jaden Smith randomly makes an appearance at the end of this track talking about campfires and magic. To clear up that confusion, Jaden is playing the role of “The Boy”, a symbol of Glover’s adolescent voice speaking in this prequel to Bino’s previous LP Because The Internet.
Kauai must be based off of some spiritual journey experienced by Glover because its contents are often too abstract to piece together. “Late Night In Kauai” features more peculiar poetry from Jaden, a verse from Glover ending with a repetitive “We are becoming God” chant and an outro rant from R O Y A L T Y’s Fam. Kauai is intriguing but not intriguing enough for anyone to want to dig deeper if they’re not familiar with Childish Gambino’s music.
Appropriately illustrated on the album cover art, STN MTN / Kauai is a contrasting compilation offering two halves of the same story. Although vague, the story remains enjoyable and entertaining. And even when it is lacking, Childish Gambino is deserving of respect as he works to shift his image from actor turned rapper to a reputable artist.