Review: Childish Gambino awakens more than just love on new album

Childish Gambino’s fourth studio album, “3.15.20,” is finally here, proving to be one of the brightest works of 2020 to date.

Illustration by Sarah Mai

Illustration by Sarah Mai

Alex Strangman

When Donald Glover is involved, nothing can be ordinary. And when he dons the persona of Childish Gambino, things get even stranger.

On March 15, a new album appeared on Glover’s website, donaldgloverpresents.com. But later that same day, it was gone. Five days later, a mysterious countdown appeared on the site in its place. Finally, on March 22, a week after it first appeared on his website, Glover, under the moniker Childish Gambino, officially dropped his fourth studio album, “3.15.20.” 

It is designed to be listened to as a magnum opus — each track flowing seamlessly into the next. The majority of the tracks are titled as the timestamps of where they appear on the album. His most experimental work to date, “3.15.20” is much more than just another “pop” album. Throughout the project there are heavy electronic themes, with hints of hip hop, R&B, funk, industrial and even a little country.

More so than any of his other projects, “3.15.20” feels like a gift from Gambino to the world. A gift he very much hand-crafted, considering Gambino has production credits on every song.

The album starts out, naturally, with “0.00,” an electronic intro track with barebones lyrics that gives listeners a much-needed moment to center themselves before embarking on the journey that is “3.15.20.”

The album’s second track — one of only two with an actual title — “Algorhythm” continues the electronic vibe but adds a danceable beat. With Gambino rapping like a robot, telling people to move their body, “Algorhythm” sounds like the title track for a new movie where “Step Up” meets “The Matrix.”

There are plenty of high points on the album, but the project’s third track, “Time,” might just be the peak. Truly a feel-good song, “Time” gives listeners an unexpected collaboration: Ariana Grande and Childish Gambino going verse for verse over a synth-heavy beat. Lyrically, the track is one of the strongest on the album, as Gambino and Grande team up to lament about the uncertainty of life.

“Maybe this whole world ain’t exactly what it seems. Maybe the sky will fall down on tomorrow. But one thing’s for certain, baby. We’re running out of time,” Gambino sings on the chorus.

This reflection upon various aspects of life is a central theme of “3.15.20.” On “19.10” Gambino considers the beauty of being Black and also the hardships it can entail. On “42.26” Gambino confronts issues like water scarcity, population growth and the resistance of the world to change.

Another central theme is love. “12.38” chronicles a special night between Gambino and his lover, complete with guest spots from 21 Savage, Ink and Kadhja Bonet. “24.19” comes off as a thank-you letter to an ex, where Gambino describes the love they shared. The outro of “47.48” is a conversation about love between Gambino and his son.

While the highs of the album are awfully high, there are also some low points. 

“32.22” is hands down the weakest song of the project. Gambino incoherently raps over an aggressive war-ready beat, ending the track with a compilation of animal noises.

Arriving four years after Gambino’s previous album, “3.15.20” was well worth the wait. One of the first substantial projects to be released during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s hard not to wonder why he chose to drop this album when he did.

Maybe Gambino felt listeners needed an album they can dance alone to, bringing some much needed anxiety and stress relief. Maybe he wanted to remind the world of all the love out there, or to let people know they’re not alone during this uncertain time. Regardless, “3.15.20” is an impactful next step for the Georgia-raised artist.

Grade: B