Childish Gambino just dropped one of the hugest surprises on the music world from a funk perspective that anybody could hope to drop in this lifetime or the next. Already buzzing in critical acclaim from his fantastic slice of life Black TV sitcom, “Atlanta”, Gambino’s new album, “Awaken, My Love”, goes (not just) Knee Deep into the funky waters of early to mid ’70s Funkadelic and P Funk in general. This is coming from a commentator who had pretty much resigned himself to the variations on ’80s funk currently being released and explored by Dam Funk, Tuxedo, Anderson Paak, Bruno Mars, and even occasionally reaching the commercial pop, Hip Hop and R&B worlds. Of course, the Dap Kings, Budos Band and several other groups explore a Funky late ’60s, early ’70s James Brown/Meters sound. But few even attempt to do a whole album in the zone of early ’70s Black light poster smoked out psychedelic funk inhabited by Sly & the Family Stone, Curtis Mayfield, Issac Hayes, The Temptations, Maxayn, The Undisputed Truth, Willie Hutch, and of course most famously, the original Funkadelics, and that is exactly what Gambino captures on this album. The sound of a band playing live (whether it was overdubbed or not) with a live drummer filling in and leading the sections, tight baselines, keyboards, psychedelic effects and incredibly topical lyrical content all come together in a way it maybe hasn’t in the whole post ’70s funk revival. The rock funk legacy of Funkadelic was translated through people like Prince into the modern day, and groups like Outkast and D’Angelo definitely trafficked in that territory, but not to put one funk up against the other, Gambino tops even Outkast and D’Angelo on “Awaken”. The reason is he eschews drum machines and any attempt at heavy modern production for a full, phat, organic funk groove, that is both more human and softer than the modern Hip Hop groove, and more virile and powerful than the grooves found in Neo Soul and modern R&B or smooth jazz. In other words, that bed be just right! And to tell the truth, its more focused on the bottom end and cleaner sonically than early ’70s Funkadelic, along the lines of the other psychedelic funk innovators such as Curtis Mayfield and War, but still with that Tiki Fullwood/ Jerome Brailey type groove and the way out lyrical concepts of Dr. Funkenstien. The album is so dope we have to bless you with two cuts this weekend, and the first one to really catch my attention was the early ’70s “People music” (as my good brother Andre Grindle would say) of “Have Some Love”.
“Have Some Love” starts out in a way that makes it’s ’70s funk pedigree unmistakeable, with a well recorded, solid drum beat from drummer Chris Hartz. The beat is rock solid upfront drumming, with Childish Gambino’s tamborine accompanying the fatback playing. After two bars the sounds of the vocal chorus come in, intensifying the early ’70s soul/funk feel. The chorus is comprised of Donald Glover (Childish Gambino) himself and a full choir, Brent Jones and the Best Life Singers, singing the uplifting people music chorus “Have a word/for your brother/have some time/for one another/really love one another/its so hard to find!!!” The choral sound is full, consisting of male and female voices together, with deep bass on the bottom and soprano’s on top, reminiscent of the Parliaments singing over the original Funkadelic bands heavy grooves. The inclusion of a bass singer reminds me of the Parliaments great bass vocalist Ray Davis, as well as Melvin Franklin of The Temptations, who also innovated in psychedelic Funk after receiving an early P-Funk influence.
After one go round of the chorus the vocal starts. The vocal is accompanied by a super funky, riff based early ’70s type groove. Album producer Ludwig Goransson takes the bass duties, playing a standard funky bassline in concert with the guitar of Sam Sugarman. The bass line moves upward in a funky strutting motion very related to the vocal melody, as Lynette Wililams holds a suspenseful chord on the Hammond B-3 organ that she adds color tones to as Gambino’s verse moves forward. Gambino’s vocal sound is as strained and paranoid as George Clinton could be vocally, as he sings an oblique verse, somebody has come to get the protagonist, and Glover sings a song of keeping his own mind and independence, also a very P Funk/early ’70s theme that resonates today. As Gambino moves into the second stanza of his verse Lynette Williams starts to chop 8th notes on her organ, adding to the tracks galloping, progressing funk feel. Behind the vocals and the band, people whoop, holler, scream, and ullate, which in addition with the rocking funk of the band give the song a truly live, rocking, human feel.
The song goes into another chorus, supported by synthesizer and acoustic guitar strumming from Sam Sugarman. At the end of the chorus we are provided with a beautiful musical moment, as there is a brief pause and you can still hear the choir singing the chorus as the music changes to the next sections. It has that real live feel of the group being a hair off in their arraignment OR of the recording being a splice of two differently recorded sections, and that “mistake” feeling adds to the human touch of the song. The change section is powerful and dark, with the Goransson playing a strong three note bass line and then improvising on the next bar, the B-3 playing sustained color chords and soloist singers stepping out to verbalize with the whole chopus backing. A high synth also provides a trippy sustained melody line on top as Gambino begins to sing “Wherever you are” at which point the bass player supports his vocalizing with more active bass runs. Hartz’s drumming also really stands out at this point as he caps off each turnaround with sharp drum rolls. The groove halts at a very natural point as the arrangement goes back to the starting point for the verse.
Instead of going back to Gambino singing alone, the whole choir sings the next verse together, which is inspirational and about how “we’ve got to really stay together”, supported by whoops and soul hollers. The song ends out on a jaunty country soul acoustic guitar and the sounds of exuberance at the musicality just released by the collective.
Childish Gambino came in a year that has been so rough for music with the loss of so many, and that has also been rough politically and dropped the absolute funk bomb. There is no way around it. “Awaken, My Love” is funky, trippy, well played, well produced, well sung, the concepts are sharp, and it has that full diverse broad scope of what author Rickey Vincent termed “United Funk.” It brings back a style some have attempted but rarely achieved. It’s amazing to me because even though I grew up with many P Funk fans and influences in my music, it was always based on the late 1970’s video game/synthesizer based style so popular in the hood. Very rarely was it based on the post-60s Sly Stone and Jimi Hendrix inspired style of the early days. But Gambino on “Have Some Love” uses that as a starting point and creates a nonspecific protest/upliftment song in that classic style. I, among others, am very thankful for Gambino laying this whole project on us, I have an album review on it coming up soon, and if you haven’t yet cop it, go out and do your ears, booty, feet and mind a favor!!!