Donald Glover has had an undeniably rapid growth into stardom over the past decade. Setting aside his achievements in comedy, film, and television, his Childish Gambino alias has produced one of the most diverse catalogs in modern hip-hop. His beginning was muddled by poorly-aged internet nerd rap on projects like Camp and Culdesac, later transitioning into more artful songwriting on 2013’s Because the Internet. His last album, Awaken My Love!, came out over three years ago, a foray into the vintage R&B and funk of Maggot Brain and Bootsy Collins. Finally, we’ve reached 3.15.20: mysteriously live-streamed on Glover’s website this past weekend before later being put on streaming. It’s easily the most low-key Childish Gambino project to date (and purportedly the final), pulling from all of Glover’s past ventures. There’s a handful of Camp’s eye roll-inducing and overly woke bars, an obsession over the digital age that was radicalized on Internet, and experimentation with funk and afrobeat like with the more recent Awaken.
It’s not a stretch to say this is an overstuffed project. It runs roughly an hour in length similar to Camp and Internet, but instead of being flooded with detours and interludes like the aforementioned, 3.15.20 keeps every track as a self-contained idea. This leads to both over-repetition (like on “35.31”) and fruitful experimentation.
“Algorhythm” is the first major highlight of the project, a brazen statement on the over-reliance of society on technology (“Life, is it really worth it? The algorhythm is perfect”). The following track “Time” is an interesting oxymoron. While it totes a laid-back instrumental and ardent Ariana Grande feature, the lyrics are an anxiety-inducing discussion of existentialist concerns such as climate change and overpopulation (“Seven billion people, Tryna free themselves…Maybe the sky will fall down on tomorrow…We’re running out of time”).
The fourth track “12.38” is easily the best on the project thanks to its slow drip beat and constant fluidity. Glover’s opening verse is bubbly and effervescent, passing off memorable one-liners left and right (“Someone bought a Patek in a panic”) while an unexpected bridge and 21 Savage feature elevate the track above anything else on the album. Savage’s verse is a much-needed contribution with his “straight man” callousness perfectly playing off of Glover’s animated performance.
While the first half of 3.15.20 is full of exciting blends of hip-hop and soul, there’s a handful duds on the latter. “19.10”’s tropical instrumental and overenthusiastic leaves the track feeling like a leftover from 2018’s Summer Pack or Glover’s recent short film Guava Island. “24.19” is an overly sappy love song that drags on for nearly eight minutes, with much of the run time full of riffs rather than stringent ideas. Meanwhile “32.22” feels Travis Scott inspired with its blown-out bass and dehumanizing autotune. There’s clear elements of explosive and primal ideas lurking underneath, but the instrumental’s overpowering bassline represses much of the track’s steam.
“35.31” starts out intriguing but loses it’s impact with additional listens due to its repetitive chorus. While the track had potential to be an insightful discussion on youth involvement in crime, it instead derails into underdeveloped monotony. “Feels Like Summer”, which was released in 2018, is another odd inclusion for the tracklist due to the lack of inclusion of “This is America”. “America” was released around the same timeframe and is a much stronger song due to it’s poignant social commentary and virality. Meanwhile, “Summer” feels very much like a retread of “Time” due to its tropical instrumental and similar message about the looming threat of climate change.
The final two tracks on the album are thankfully more cohesive than the weak middle section. “47.48”’s jazz instrumental and subdued vocals channel the better parts of Awaken My Love!, while the closing track “53.49” is an unapologetic banger that mixes spirituality with humble brags (“My beard long, damn, I look like Jesus, And my shirt is off, ooh, I feel like Fela”). The upbeat instrumental and energetic gospel vocals that send off the album (and presumably the Childish Gambino pseudonym) are triumphant, clearly hopeful for a utopian future.
If we’re looking at 3.15.20 as a representation of the jumbled state of the modern world, its a worthy statement. There’s such a mix of stylistic ideas across the project that it feels applicable for anything we could be doing during March 2020: quiet introspection during self isolation or heading to panic buy out the supermarket amidst the death throes of modern capitalism. But will this album be looked upon as fondly in the coming years as Because the Internet and Awaken My Love!? I’m doubtful.