By Liam Grogan
One of my favorite shows of all time is NBC’s “Community,” which ran from 2009-2014 before its final season ran on the ill-fated streaming service, “Yahoo Screen.” There are so many things that made the show great, but one major highlight is its phenomenal cast.
But, much like “The Office” with Steve Carrell, “Community” will always be measured as before and after one man’s departure: Donald Glover.
Glover’s charisma, charm and chemistry with the rest of the cast elevated each scene he was in, but it soon became clear that he was destined for greater things. A jack of all trades, his musical footprint as the artist known as Childish Gambino affirmed that prediction, especially in light of his newest album, “3.15.20.”
I’ve always thought Glover’s “Community”-era is his most underappreciated, though. His 2012 stand-up special, “Weirdo,” is fantastic, and his EPs — which stand in stark contrast to his current work — are incredibly entertaining.
Meanwhile, it’s hard to say anything that hasn’t already been said about “Atlanta,” his show on FX. It’s a brilliant mix of comedy and drama, realism and surrealism and my pick for the greatest show of the past decade. “Atlanta” parallels nicely with Glover’s musical work, and paints the picture of his slow descent into the weird and experimental.
And while I do enjoy Childish Gambino’s first two studio albums, “Camp” and “Because the Internet,” in retrospect, they definitely seem like a transitional period leading up to his two most recent albums, 2016’s “Awaken, My Love!” and last week’s “3.15.20.”
“Awaken, My Love!” is my favorite album of all time. It’s a seamless blend of hip-hop, funk and R&B that comes together in 11 amazing tracks. But beyond that, the album feels like the moment when Glover really came into his own as Childish Gambino. I think we see flashes of this shift in “Because the Internet,” which veered into experimentalism. But “Awaken, My Love!” was the album where Glover truly took the leap, and the result was the best album of the 2010s.
This brings me to his most recent album, “3.15.20.” This doesn’t really say much only three months into the year, but this is easily the greatest album of the year so far.
My favorite tracks are the penultimate “47.48,” a song which also serves as a clever callback to the song “Baby Boy” from his previous album. So does “35.31,” which never fails to bring a smile to my face, with “Time.”
When Kanye West released “808s & Heartbreak” in 2008, it was so radically different from anything he had previously put out that it created a split in the fanbase. However, as time passed, his use of autotune and synthesizers essentially set an industry standard for the next decade and could still be considered the most influential album of modern day rap and hip-hop.
I think we’re at a similar point with Childish Gambino right now.
Whether you prefer his older or newer music, it’s undeniable that no other artist is even attempting what he’s doing right now, and I think that when we look back at these albums in 10 years, his work will manifest as influential as Kanye’s.
While only time will tell, I’m eager to see which direction Glover is ready to push the industry next.