Parental Advisory: Awaken My Love! by Childish Gambino

“Awaken, My Love!” by Childish Gambino was released in December of 2016. Previously, Gambino had only released hip-hop music. However, “Awaken, My Love!” is far more eclectic. Gambino tries his hand at combining R&B, soul, and funk. The most prevalent inspirations are Prince, Funkadelic, and Outkast. We are introduced to Gambino’s superb falsetto since he sings rather than raps. The album essentially acts as a love to letter to his son. Within the tracks, he tells the story of how he and his son’s mother came to be as well as what his son should expect of the world in adulthood. Gambino has created a paternal album in which he parents through music.

Gambino’s change in tune is only natural in emulation of his transition to becoming a father. Previously, Gambino only produced music relevant to the current generation; whereas, in “Awaken, My Love!”, Gambino aims to mature by creating music nostalgic of his parents generation. It is debatable whether or not Gambino is mimicking the musicians of the 70s, when in actuality, it is more likely his intent was to capture a time he wishes to recreate for his offspring. Gambino is sentimental in paying homage to the people that raised him.

In “Me and Your Mama,” a vehement, bluesy, rock instrumental encompasses Gambino’s narration to his son. His lyrics express the difficulty involved in maintaining a romantic relationship when the odds are against him. Gambino’s frustration is evident in each bellow he emits alongside the dark and stormy feel of the music. The passion Gambino expresses in this song makes it the most powerful track on the album. It evident that Gambino places importance on his son’s understanding of relationship challenges.   

Gambino is frank in setting his son’s expectations about the real world. Several tracks tackle the unfortunate realities Black people must become accustomed to in today’s America. In “Boogieman”, Gambino forewarns his son of how he will likely have to grapple with being a constant target due to the color of his skin. As if being a parent is not worrisome enough, Gambino sings of the additional worry Black parents must endure in knowing their child could fall victim to racial disparities.

“Redbone,” interestingly, expresses another warning regarding his son’s race despite sounding like an ideal song for fornication. The rhythm exudes sensuality; therefore, it is plausible the track was intended to have a double meaning. However, with his son in mind, it sounds as if Gambino is urging him to be aware of the societal mentality towards Blacks, especially as a light skinned Black person otherwise known as a "Redbone." This is because Redbones are subjected to bigotry from both Black and White people. According to certain Black people, light skinned people are not “Black-enough” and are comparatively advantageous of White privilege. Meanwhile, the level of Blackness makes no difference to some White people’s biases. Essentially, Gambino cautions his son of the partisanship he could experience from both ends of the spectrum.

Gambino challenges the stereotypical relationship between Black fathers and their sons in “Baby Boy.” He assures his son that an estranged father-son relationship will not be what lies ahead. Gambino is confident in vowing continuity in his son’s life. Although he is determined to defy the politically incorrect assumption made of his relationship, the song has a vulnerable quality. The song is a ballad through which Gambino begs for his son to remain his. Gambino seems afraid of what, stereotypically, would be inevitable. The lyrics convey a struggle within himself over remaining loyal to his son.

The tracks previously listed are the most effective on the album in communicating the wisdom Gambino wishes to pass on to his son. Although there are no studies to confirm the success rate of parenting via music, Gambino might be onto something. Not only does his album offer significance to whom it was directed, but it also introduces us to a version of Gambino many of us wish we had been made privy to sooner as it’s been too long since soul music has graced the pop charts.