First Listen #10: Childish Gambino’s ‘3.15.20’

After promises and promises, here we are to talk about the greatness that is Donald Glover aka Childish Gambino aka Earn from Atlanta. I think we all know how talented Donald is. He’s a singer, rapper, comedian, screenplay-writer (we canNOT forget about the because the internet screenplay), director, actor, father, and all around fantastic human being. I love how multi-faceted he is and how he’s able to find spaces for himself, where he can release that creative energy in a bunch of different ways. I remember being so impressed knowing that the same guy that played Troy on Community was also serving us bars on his albums. Musically, Donald has been consistent. He gave us a couple of fire mixtapes, some fire rap albums with because the internet (2013) and Camp (2011), and some equally solid genre-bending projects with Kauai (2014) and “Awaken, My Love!” (2016). And he gives us another solid genre-bending project with 3.15.20.

The project starts off with spaceship vibe-driven “0.00.” I listened to this project next to the lake I’ve been sitting by the past couple of days, and the music was moving just like the water. The sun was out for the first time in a couple of days. It truly felt like a moment of ascension. “Algorhythm” QUICKLY became one of my favorite songs. The production is perfection. I love the interpolation of Zhane’s “Hey, Mr. DJ.” This track gives me major dystopian society cult music vibes. Like, it sounds afterworldly – like it exists after we’ve all gone away, and it’s trying to build on sounds from the past. The ending is a little jarring, but it’s a great transition into “Time.”

“Time” is where I started getting the very strong Prince vibes. This song immediately took me back to the first time I heard “Around the World in a Day” or “Paisley Park.” The guitar mixed with Donald’s voice and the harmonies that come into the song before Ariana Grande’s part is straight out of the Prince guidebook on music. Same with “12.30!” The mixture of the kind of rap/singing mixed with harmonies and pitched up vocals are mainstays in the music Prince was making during the Sign ‘O’ the Times (1987), Graffiti Bridge (1990), and The Gold Experience (1995) eras. Also 21 Savage in this song is soooooo good. I hadn’t had a chance to hear this song during the initial stream, so I was very much surprised to hear him. He sounds so good on this production. I actually think that those Prince vibes add to the story that the project is trying to tell but more on that at the end. I got some stuff to say lol.

“19.10” is actually my favorite song on this project. The projection is *CHEF’S KISS x100000000*. I love the message of the difficulty of self-worth. The world is garbage and will treat you like garbage. But if you know you’re the shit then nothing else matters. And framing it as something that his father told him at 6 years old… good. His father made sure he knew his worth and held on to it, while being honest about there being things and people in the world that are willing to tear you down. And I love that.

“24.19,” “32.22,” “35.31,” and “39.28” continue the good vibes. I love the switch up during the bridge of “24.19” – and the harmonies at the end are fantastic. “32.22” isn’t my favorite, but I love how experimental it is. I’m not sure if “35.31” is an intentional nod to Donald being from Georgia, but I feel the same way about it that I felt about Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” the first time I heard it. There’s a trap-countryness that feels like home. “39.28” brings me back into the Prince-influence, but it also reminds me very HEAVILY of bill wurtz’s stuff on Youtube. You know bill – this guy! It also reminds me a little bit of the Across the Universe (2007) soundtrack, specifically “Dear Prudence” and “Because.” The piano in this song is also so good. And the lead in into “Feels Like Sum- err “42.26” is PERFECT.

“Feels Like Summer” really is just a GREAT song. I was still by the lake at this point of my listening sesh, and it made me think how different a day like that would be, had we not all been stuck inside because of the Rona. There would be people sitting next to the lake on blankets laughing with friends, people walking dogs or jogging. People on bikes. Who really knows the next time we’ll be  able to do something like that. BUT the world doom-esqueness of the song feels like it fits right in to what’s going on in the world right now. I feel like the whole album has a little bit of a tinge of “damn we’re really living like this, but it could be and should be better.” Again, I’ll get into that at the end.

I’d been having a bit of an inner dialogue, where I was trying to figure out if this album had a bit of a feeling of a father watching the world turn into something he’s not super excited about his kids living in. Or least thinking very strongly about what it means to raise kids in a world like this. And I think “47.48” confirms that theory. The song sees Donald asking little boys and girls, if they’re afraid to live in this world and if it’s hard for them, while also giving them the same advice his dad gave him: the world is trash, but you’re beautiful. I love him including his son Legend at the end.

The project ends perfectly with “53.49.” I think it’s such a good song for right now. There’s a lot of lost hope in the world, for a variety of different reasons. And I think this is one of those songs that gives us a moment to really let out our feelings, but it also reminds us to remind ourselves that we’ll make it out eventually.

This was a really good project. I don’t know how much I’ll listen to it, but it was a really really good listen. I saw a post from MeechonMars on Twitter before heading out on my walk and listening to the album, and he talked about how Donald always finds a way to reinvent himself and do something different, and I think that’s the perfect way to describe this project. It’s so clear how talented and innovative Donald is when he moves so fluidly through the different sounds on this project. He sounds at home in all of them. He’s one of those people, like Tyler the Creator, that you cannot refer to them solely as rappers because they exist as so much more than that. And Donald’s always shown us that he moves freely. 

I haven’t gotten around to reading any other reviews about this project (I normally try to stay away from them until I’ve written something on it, so I don’t just regurgitate what those other articles say), but I think it’s really obvious that this is a project for the end of the world lol. I mentioned earlier that I was getting very strong Prince vibes from this project, and I think that adds to that. There are a couple of albums and songs – Sign ‘O’ the Times, “Planet Earth” from Planet Earth (2007) and “America” from Around the World in a Day – where Prince theorizes on what the end of the world looks like, wonders if we can change it and wonders will our children have to live in a world where capitalism, greed, and -isms of all kind wipe us tf out. Sometimes these songs make your shoulders move (despite the lyrical content), sometimes these songs make you want to start crying on sight.

And I think that’s what Donald is serving us on 3.15.20. If you listen to those songs and albums from Prince, you can hear the influence on Donald, whether it was purposeful or not (though, I’d be very surprised if it wasn’t). He’s a dad now. He’s also approaching 40 years old. And as Johnny Rain so aptly says in “A World of 100,” “The world is fucking shit” (lol sometimes…I’m trying to be positive). Of course there are beautiful moments. Donald makes it a point to bring those to the forefront, with fun songs like “35.31,” but there’s also a real fear that he seems to have – like we all do – as a person and a dad that if we don’t turn things around soon, the dystopian visuals that are evoked on multiple songs on this project could be the future that we’re heading to.

But I’d like to think we have a chance to change that. And for the sake of his family, I’d like to think Donald thinks we have one, too.

Overall Album Rating

Featured Image Credit:

(listen to 3.15.20 by clicking the image below)

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3 thoughts on “First Listen #10: Childish Gambino’s ‘3.15.20’

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