When Childish Gambino, the project of visionary artist Donald Glover, released his debut album, Camp, in 2011, he was an alternative media phenomenon. The Derrick Comedy alumni and 30 Rock writer made his name in improv long before he was a household name as a musician. It’s this mindset that informs his debut LP, Camp, an album as indebted to the quick-wittedness of his improv comedy roots as the rap albums he grew up idolizing. On the album opener, “Outside,” Glover outlines his feelings of loneliness and isolation from the community he was raised in. Over pulsating drums and a soulful choir, he raps, “Mrs. Glover ma’am, your son is so advanced/ But he’s acting up in class and keeps peeing in his pants/And I just wanna fit in, but nobody was helping me out/ They talking hood shit and I ain’t know what that was about.” On “Les,” Gambino raps over a heartbeat-like pulsing bass and stirring strings that accentuate his pop side. Aside from his versatility, the artist also found success thanks to the way he used the internet to harness his audience. It was a one-stop shop where he could interact with his fans and introduce them to his new music. Camp is a heady, intense album, with Glover introducing pop-rap beats as an obvious counterbalance to his heavy meditations on race, religion, and the unique role of hip-hop in the cultural sphere. The LP serves as an introduction to a style of music Gambino would hone over the years, blending intense, thought-provoking ideas with moments of levity and playfulness. Some would argue that he mastered this approach with his hit TV show Atlanta, but it all began with his debut album, Camp.

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