Donald Glover briefly offered some solace amid all the self-isolation last Sunday (March 15). The multi-talented actor, Atlanta creator and Childish Gambino musician brightened up these panicky pandemic times by dropping a collection of (mostly) new music — for around 12 hours. The album initially played on a loop on the site ‘Donald Glover Presents’, accompanied by an unfinished illustration depicting a very modern scene of rioting, fiery chaos and selfie-taking.
Disappointingly, the stream abruptly disappeared on the very same day it landed, prompting howls of derision from Glover/Gambino fans all over. The pain is over now, though: the album is back for good on streaming services under the Childish Gambino moniker and is titled ‘3.15.20’.
The new record marks Glover’s first album-length work since the soul and funk reinvention that defined his career-changing 2016 LP ‘“Awaken, My Love!”’. That album changed many people’s typically lukewarm appraisal of Glover’s musicianship for the better, with the spine-tingling single ‘Redbone’ quickly becoming a definitive song of the 2010s. Glover further shored up this facet of his creative versatility by inking a record deal with RCA in early 2018, promising that new music would follow. But just three solo singles — including the quadruple Grammy-winning ‘This Is America’, his biggest musical moment to date — had emerged until now.
There’s a familiarity on ‘3.15.20’ that comes from both the presence of Glover’s regular producer and songwriting partner Ludwig Göransson in the credits and the inclusion of a small number of previously released songs. There’s the laidback sunset R&B of ‘Feels Like Summer’ (first heard in 2018 as one side of ‘The Summer Pack’ and credited here as ‘42.26’), the thumping warning against technology that is ‘Algorhythm’ (a track that was sent to fans who attended his ‘This Is America’ tour) and the vocoder-heavy ‘39.28’ (formerly used as an intro to the live favourite ‘Human Sacrifice’).
There’s also the frantic and wide-eyed ‘32.22’ (known to Gambino fans as ‘Warlords’), which debuted during his 2019 Coachella headline set and leaps out at you like an extension of Göransson’s work on the Black Panther soundtrack.
The decision to supplement the new material on ‘3.15.20’ with tracks Glover’s ardent fanbase are already acquainted with does place the project more in the category of compilation or mixtape than fully realised studio album. But while the motivation behind the roll-out and release of ‘3.15.20’ remains up for debate, the new tracks do present a set of intriguing and well-executed contributions to Glover’s expanding discography — while continuing to steer clear of the Gambino raps of old, of course.
The sing-song ‘35.31’ is built around a jangling guitar line and contains the kind of instructional, assonant lyrics that’ll make it a charming candidate for TikTok-pop fame (it would’ve also fit seamlessly into a dance sequence in Glover’s sun-kissed Guava Island film). Glover’s team-up with Ariana Grande on ‘Time’, meanwhile, will be a sure-fire streaming hit given the two stars’ effortless vocal link-up here over synth-drums seemingly borrowed from Daft Punk.
Elsewhere, 21 Savage, Kadhja Bonet and Ink provide captivating features on the the neo funk-charged ‘12.38’ as Glover explores the Prince-level capabilities of his ever-improving vocal range, which he manages to break further new ground on during the arresting album stand-out ‘53.49’. It’s here that he throatily preaches above a soulful live band about “trying to put the spirit in your Yeezy Boosts” with the kind of gospel gusto regularly witnessed at Kanye West‘s ‘Sunday Service’ sessions — which Glover attended during last year’s Coachella.
The rolling groove of ‘47.48′ is another highlight: Glover’s doomy proclamations about the violent and unjust aspects of society (“little boys playing ’round, shot down”) eventually subside for a more optimistic outlook for the future as Glover sweetly interacts with his young son Legend about the people they each love.
Glover’s willingness to share such a candid moment on record is particularly interesting given his past proclivity towards keeping his private life largely offline, and may be a sign that the star is beginning to let his guard down as the outside world continues to try to peer in. It’s an approach that Glover is applying to his musical output at least, with the impressive ‘3.15.20’ well worth the wait — we’ll keep our fingers firmly crossed, then, that he doesn’t give in to his past evasiveness and take the record down again…
Release date: March 22
Record label: RCA