Album Review: Childish Gambino—“STN MTN / Kauai”

By Sayem Khan

I’ve been anticipating the release of Donald Glover’s/Childish Gambino’s mysterious STN MTN / Kauai mixtape and EP ever since its announcement in August. STN MTN, an eleven-track Gangsta Grillz-hosted mixtape, and Kauai, a seven-track EP, are named after Childish’s hometown of Stone Mountain, Georgia and the Hawaiian island, Kauai, respectively. These two pieces of work are his first release since his album Because the Internet back in December of 2013. Up until Because the Internet, Childish’s works mainly consisted of rap albums and mixtapes. After he quit Community, Glover decided to focus on his music career and released Because the Internet, which was a complete change from what you would expect from him. It included fast-paced rap songs like “Crawl” and “Sweatpants,” and soft, slow singing tracks like “Urn” and “Flight of the Navigator.” Fortunately, Childish hasn’t disappointed with his newest release.

On STN MTN Childish Gambino plays with trap beats, featuring samples from Lil Wayne’s ‘Go DJ’ to Maceo’s ‘Nextel Chirp’, amongst others.  Childish Gambino manages to make a trap mixtape without making a “trap mixtape”. Which is to say that he doesn’t end up sounding like the generic Chief Keef or Migos mixtape. Through STN MTN, Childish emphasizes that Atlanta rappers are alive and well and shouldn’t be underestimated. The mixtape has features from Kari Faux on the track ‘No Small Talk’, Young Scooter on ‘Let Your Hair Blow’, and the R O Y A L T Y crew on ‘AssShots’, while the tracks are also blessed with some DJ Drama drops that keep it extra gangsta’. Childish presents a different flow on each track, which really shows his versatility as a rapper, something that I think really stands out. However, as great of a rapper as Childish proves himself to be, I think that he turns out to be an even greater singer. In fact, my favourite song on STN MTN is ‘U Don’t Have to Call” where he SINGS a portion of Usher’s 2001 release of the same name. This then plays into a prose which addresses topics like race and love, and is reminiscent of the track ‘That Power’ from his 2011 album, Camp. All in all STN MTN definitely bumps.

Album art for STN MTN/Kauai

Album art for STN MTN / Kauai

Childish describes STN MTN as “a dream” that plays into the Kauai EP once he wakes up. That being said, Kauai gravitates towards a more pop sound. The EP features Jaden Smith on the tracks “Pop Thieves (Make It Feel Good)” and “Late Night in Kauai,” as he plays the role of “The Boy,” a creation of Childish’s ever since Because the Internet. I love Kauai because it’s young and fresh; it’s the type of album that I could listen to in ten years and experience a wave of nostalgia. I think the bulk of Childish’s talents are emphasized on this EP, with his upbeat flow which transitions smoothly into softer tunes, coupling up really well with his melodious singing voice. I think that the one thing wrong with Kauai is that there isn’t more of it; I want to hear more of Childish Gambino’s singing.

The track “Pop Thieves” is probably the most “pop” song on the EP with its cheery, generic flow, making it the “3005” of this EP – the radio hit song you’re only going to want to listen to once in a while because it’ll get irritating. Childish even revisits and remixes “Love is Crazy” off his independent album, Sick Boi, which was released way back in 2008. Kauai in its entirety is a beautiful mesh of enticing beats, vocals, and features from Christian Rich on “The Palisades” and Gambino’s brother Steve G. Lover III on “Poke,” coupled with introspective prose/poetry performed by Jaden Smith that is definitely welcomed. As cheesy and awful as it may sound, Kauai is about love, endless summers, and letting yourself get lost in the mix. My favourite tracks off the EP are “Poke,” and “Late Night in Kauai.” In a sense, it’s the fact that “Late Night in Kauai” directly follows “Poke” that makes them so enjoyable. “Poke” gives you this relatively faster-paced (in comparison to “LNiK”) song with a rap verse from Steve G. with smart lyricism and a flow to bob around to. “Late Night in Kauai” starts off with a spoken word poem from Jaden Smith about getting lost in time with a lover on a beach. This song has a really mellow tempo with some subtle Hawaiian drum beats in the beginning during the poem, after which Gambino raps to the flow of the song and follows with a small singing portion. The song ends off with a poem by Childish’s right hand man, Fam, who reflects on the current state of media and the importance of perspective.

Through STN MTN and Kauai, Childish asserts his prominence in the rap game while establishing the fact that he doesn’t need to rap over trap beats to get himself across, and that the singing coupled with mellow vibes of Kauai is the type of hip-hop artist he can be and is now. Childish Gambino is essentially proving that he could do what everyone else wants or expects from him and make money, or he could do what he wants and make something amazing and express himself, while also making money and drawing himself some well-deserved attention. I think that with the work that Childish has been releasing, he’s established himself as one of the most versatile artists out there, in the sense that he doesn’t have to follow a singular direction with his musical and creative talents. He has branched into several different directions with his music and has created something mind-blowing and innovative.

Throughout STN MTN / Kauai, Childish addresses issues that are important to him or that hold some relevance in all our lives today. In the mixtape and EP he talks about firing all the cops in Cobb County (a part of Atlanta notorious for its horrible police force), being racist (something he also admitted to in a recent interview on the Breakfast Club), the ongoing Ferguson protests, his and his crew’s relevance as musicians, and how he’s going to steal your girl. He also talks about his messy love life, something that’ll have you feeling some type of way. I think that the mixtape and EP together really showcase not only Childish Gambino’s spectrum of talents, which aren’t limited to just rapping and singing, but also the whole creative process he has begun incorporating into his works ever since Because the Internet. I definitely recommend downloading the mixtape and buying the EP if you’d like to see what this side of Donald Glover’s musical and creative talents has to offer. (GlassNote)


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