Album Review: Childish Gambino’s “3.15.20”

Sydney Chatani and Carissa Marques

3.15.20 is the fourth studio album by rapper Donald Glover, AKA Childish Gambino. After initially being uploaded onto his website, only to be taken down hours later and re-released on streaming services a week later, the album has resonated with listeners and critics alike. 

For this review, I have decided to collaborate with a co-worker and fellow DJ, Carissa Marques. She has taken on the even-numbered tracks; I have reviewed the odd tracks. 

TRACK-BY-TRACK ALBUM REVIEW

  1. 0.00: Acting as the opening track for the album, “0.00” is a simple refrain, with nothing but “We are, we are, we are…” being repeated for the run time of 2:59. However, the track is still notable due to clever production techniques: distorted vocals and low humming synths acting as background support make for a solid introductory track. It’s not the type of song you’d listen to on its own: rather, if you’re planning to listen to the entire album front-to-back.
  2. Algorhythm:  This song is a clever play on words, “algorithm” being a set of calculations normally followed by a computer to solve a problem, and “rhythm”, a recurrent pattern of sound. The two of these words put together suggests that Glover is trying to find what the correct pattern is for success in human life. The song starts with a strong repetitive electronic beat. The first verse is spoken with a robotic-like voice filter as Glover proposes ideas about what makes humans different from computers. The chorus is catchy with sing-songy vibes inspired by a 90’s R&B classic, “Hey Mr. D.J.” by Zhané. The rhythm continues as the song goes on, slowly fading out mimicking the sound of a computer crash as the song ends. If I had to describe this song using non-musical terms, it would be Tron: Legacy meets gospel choir vibes. 
  3. Time: Featuring the first guest appearance on the album, Gambino teams up with pop singer Ariana Grande to express disenchantment with the world, and specifically, their place in it. Following the trend in modern music of the resurgence of 80s music, “Time” features slow synths straight out of 1985 and impactful drum machines. It’s an introspective track, with lyrics like “maybe this whole world ain’t exactly what it seems, maybe the sky will fall down on tomorrow, but one thing’s for certain, we’re running out of time…”. It feels especially relevant now given the state of uncertainty and fear that is present throughout the world.
  4. 12.38 – With Ink, Kadhja Bonet and 21 Savage collaborating on this track, the song tells a story of an experience between Gambino and a short-lived love interest. It discusses how modern relationships tend to run into the same problem of each party having different ideas of what they want the end results to be. Gambino sings about falling a little too hard for someone who just wanted something casual. Kadhja Bonet’s bridge is from the perspective of the uninterested partner. Gambino pays due to successful African-American women writers, singers and actresses throughout his verses to emphasize his belief that their work is important. 21 Savage raps about love, success and culture in his verse. He also makes sure to point out the issues he dealt with in February of 2019 for rapping about problems with American immigration policies. Ink’s outro continues the funky Outkast-like sounds that can be heard throughout the song. 
  5. 19.10: This track sees Gambino embracing self-love and black beauty, regardless of his typically self-conscious mindset. Perhaps this was inspired by being thrust into the spotlight of fame, as lyrics such as “to be beautiful is to be hunted…” suggest. However, this could also have a double meaning and reference black beauty, thus changing the meaning to an in-depth look at what it means to be a person of color in America. While the lyricism alone is outstanding, the instrumentals take this track to a new level. It reminds me of something that could easily fit in on Prince’s “1999,” as Gambino embraces funk on this song, alongside energetic synths and drum machines.
  6. 24.19 – The sweet and sappy love song of the album, “24.19” is like a thank you note to Gambino’s lover. It tells of happy memories, endless gratitude and a taste of true love. The song opens with a snappy poppy beat and bells keeping time. The phrase “sweet thing” is repeated throughout his song in reference to his lover. With a dreamy interlude of what sounds like a harp and piano keys, this song resembles the sound of Gambino’s earlier work like “Redbone”. The track is almost eight minutes long, but the last minute is left for transitional music that flows straight into the next song, “32.22”. “24.19” sounds like you’re sitting on a cloud watching the sunset with someone you care about.
  7. 32.22: The 7th song on “3.15.20” is a direct shift from the sound of previous tracks. Instead of incorporating happy-sounding synths and drum machines, Gambino seems to draw inspiration from industrial acts from the 1990s, such as Nine Inch Nails. Beginning with heavy panting, he mutters lyrics regarding fire, aggression, and violence — even including a reference to Michael Jackson, stating “Billie Jean is on fire…”. It’s wonderfully strange, slightly unnerving, and possibly my favorite on the album. Though it goes without saying that Gambino has seemingly endless talent, he continues to dish it out in versatile, creative ways.
  8. 35.31 – This track is one of those songs that sounds super happy and upbeat, but the lyrics actually mask a deeper meaning. Lots of metaphors are used to describe the experiences of growing up around drug dealing. Gambino uses his music to stir conversations that have historically been swept under the rug by America. One Genius user, authrator, suggested the rhythm of the chorus, “mimics the tune of “Pick a Bale of Cotton” likening the song to many negro folk songs from the times of American Slavery…this line links the song thematically to the similarity between living life as a drug dealer, which is implied by the song, and being an American slave,” (https://genius.com/19354489). The song finishes with an outro that is actually part of the lyrics of the next track but played in reverse. 
  9. 39.28: Opening with nothing but Gambino’s synthesized, auto-tuned vocals, “39.28” is reminiscent of Imogen Heap and explores the feelings Gambino has regarding his father’s passing. Lyrics such as “grief is a standing ocean, I never swam unless you did, so I don’t know why I’m here without you, I miss you…” are heartfelt and touching, and allow listeners to emphasize with his loss. It’s a poignant commentary on a difficult subject that nearly everyone has had experience with.
  10. 42.26 – This song was originally released as “Feels Like Summer” in July of 2018. Gambino executes bringing global issues into his music yet again in a song that unwinds and really gets you thinking. The melodic tropical-meets-R&B vibe may lure the listener away from paying attention to the lyrics, but once you pay attention, you’ll realize he is talking about the state of our planet. He sings of the rising temperatures, the scarcity of drinking water, the growing population and the loss of bees and birds. There’s a verse encouraging younger generations to appreciate their youth and just slow down. Gambino closes with urging people to notice the change and take action. The song is also sampled in Guava Island, a film featuring Donald Glover and Rihanna. “42.26” sounds like a busy summer street at dusk when everyone is outside. I can picture it all, from the kids running down the pavement to the elderly sitting on the front steps, sweat trickling down your face as you take a sip of something cold. 
  11. 47.48: Gambino embraces his funk sensibilities here. The lyrics see him emphasizing the importance of living in the moment and not fixating on the past or future. This emphasis is contrasted by descriptions of violence and danger, and ends with a conversation between Gambino and his son, in which they discuss self-love. It’s one of the better songs on the album that carries an important message for younger listeners.
  12. 53.49 – The last track of the album finishes with a bang. The first verse sounds as if this track will be a hype song, but as he goes into the chorus, it starts to sound quite spiritual. The transition from the high-hat drum beat to the spiritual synths is executed wonderfully. Throughout the verses and chorus, there are references to passages of the Bible in the books of Ecclesiastes and Psalms. The song has an encouraging message with the repeated phrase, “there is love in every moment under the sun.” Gambino also brings up self-love, which has been sprinkled throughout the entire album. “53.49” sounds similar to Kanye West’s Sunday Service project. Gambino also talks about his own family, including his children and late father in the song. This song definitely wraps up the album on a good note hopefully leaving the listener inspired to be kind and make a change in the world around them. 

SUMMARY:

Sydney: So, Carissa, what did you think?

Carissa: Honestly, I liked it more than I anticipated. I haven’t listened to Childish Gambino in a minute, so in a way it was sort of nostalgic. 

Sydney: Agreed! I haven’t since high school, so it was interesting to see how he has evolved as an artist and changed his style since the release of Before the Internet and Awaken, My Love!.

Carissa: If I remember correctly, Before the Internet was definitely more rap-centered, right? 

Sydney: Yes! I like that in this album, he takes a lot of inspiration from artists like Prince. I didn’t see that influence as being prominent on earlier releases.

Carissa: For sure, I think lots of artists are drawing inspiration from oldies these days. It’s interesting to listen to their interpretations of combining old sounds with new technology. Anyways, what was your favorite track? 

Sydney: I really liked “32.22”. It’s so different from anything he’s ever released, and I loved the influences he pulled from industrial music. It’s so cool to me when an artist combines their genre with another that’s totally out of left field – but he pulls it off. 

Carissa: It was incredible! I’m looking forward to seeing all the dances people come up with after listening to this album. My best friend is a dancer, and I could totally picture some of these songs being great for hip-hop choreography. I think my favorite is just before yours though, “24.19”. I’m a sucker for love songs. 

Sydney: Agreed! So out of 5, how many Spinnaker Sails would you give the album, 1 being the worst and 5 being amazing? 

Carissa: Okay, so I know we’ll probably have different answers, but because of his powerful lyrics and message throughout the album, I’m going to have to give this one a 3.75

Sydney: I think it’s a solid 3.5 for me. It’s not what I typically listen to, but I really respect his growth as an artist and the powerful lyrics he presents in this album. My one main concern is that it feels a little too “all over the place”. I feel like if the tracks were rearranged, the album would have a more consistent flow to it. 

Carissa: I do appreciate him changing the names of the songs to timestamps though that way people would listen to the album as a story. I think a good take away from this album, especially during times like these, is to continue loving others and yourself no matter the situation! 

Sydney: Agreed. Thanks for reviewing with me!

Standout Tracks: “32.22,” “47.48,” “42.26” “Algorhythm” “24.19”

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