Single Review: Redbone

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Photograph: Allen Lee

Aged just 21, Donald Glover began writing for NBC’s 30 Rock. Later he moved towards acting, landing the fan-favourite the role of Troy Barnes in cult sitcom Community. With multiple awards and a sell-out stand-up comedy tour, it appeared that Donald Glover had it made. So, when he announced that he was leaving on TV to pursue hip hop under the stage name Childish Gambino, it came as something of a shock.

 

Now aged 33, it appears that Gambino has even gotten bored with hip hop. He’s graduated from straight rap to a unique hybrid of soul, funk, and R&B.

 

‘Redbone’ is the second single from the upcoming album “Awaken, My Love!”. Gambino doesn’t rap one line of this five-minute song, opting instead for trippy, melancholic vocals. As we might expect from such a perfectionist, the production is lush. The singing is soulful and heartfelt, yet the electronic distortion of Gambino’s voice makes it feel disturbingly distant. By the end of the track the voice disappears almost entirely, melting into the song’s constantly morphing soundscape. Musically, ‘Redbone’ is as versatile as its creator, combining slow-jam soulfulness and warping funky beats with stark, sliding electronic chords. Familiar and original in equal measure, the track sounds like ‘70s P-Funk with a hangover.

 

As with any Gambino project, ‘Redbone’ is hard to categorise. The only other single as-yet released from this album (‘Me and Your Mama’) swings wildly from mellow trip-hop to grungy rock, and then finally to jazz lounge. If these two singles are anything to judge by, then “Awaken, My Love!” could be treating us to the same sonic variation and thrilling internal conflict that Kendrick gives us in To Pimp A Butterfly, or Kanye in The Life of Pablo.

 

“Awaken, My Love!” will be available from December 2nd.