Donald Glover is one of the most talented multi-hyphenates to ever exist. He's an accomplished actor, standup comedian, director, and screenwriter. His hit TV show Atlanta is about to enter its third season on March 24.
But when it comes to music, Glover goes under a different persona: Childish Gambino. Where Glover is goofy and friendly, Gambino is serious and experimental. Gambino's been making music for years. It's even rumored Glover had to quit his role as Troy in Community in order to focus on his music career back in 2014. It seems like a plausible theory, given Childish Gambino's songs leapt into the stratosphere right after that time.
With a stage name born from a Wu-Tang Clan name generator, Childish Gambino has been testing the limits of music since 2005, when he released his first mixtape. His rapping started off loud, wacky, and braggadocious. When he released his monumental album Because the Internet in 2013, his music gained a more refined reputation. Cut to today, and Gambino's influence on modern hip-hop/rap and R&B music cannot be understated.
It's nearly impossible to create a fair Top 10 list of Gambino's songs, since everyone has their own favorite time period of his work. Glover is too good at everything - even music! Still, when you take a long look at his discography, there are a select group of songs that never fail to stand out. From his mixtape days to his more recent work, here are our picks for Childish Gambino's 10 best tracks.
10. "Do Ya Like"
It all started when Adele put out "Melt My Heart to Stone" back in 2008. Gambino sampled her lyrics, "Words that I made up, you say my name like-" and turned it into this seductive and sunny hit that never fails to elate us every time we listen to it.
Not only does "Do Ya Like" have a certain moxie about it that will make you feel like a kid again, the bars Gambino spits are amazingly clever. Our favorites are: "I'm in love with you, but this is not tennis" and "Mama, you are with the right man, Juno" (a reference to the quirky 2007 film about a teen who gets pregnant).
Not only did "Do Ya Like" prove that Glover had the lyrical expertise to be taken seriously as a rapper, it also influenced Logic to produce a sequel song with the same name. "Do Ya Like" even catapulted the #donald4spiderman campaign that called for the producers of The Amazing Spider-Man reboot to cast Donald Glover as Peter Parker! While Glover never got to play the superhero from Queens, he was cast in a small role in Spider-Man: Homecoming.
9. "I. The Worst Guys"
Chance the Rapper accompanies Glover in this laid-back Because the Internet track. "I. The Worst Guys" was their third collaboration together. Chance doesn't have any verses on the track (although he did during Governors Ball 2014), but he does appear on the very catchy chorus.
What's up with that chorus, by the way? Well, Gambino's longtime producer Ludwig Göransson stated that when Chance heard the beat of this song for the first time, he randomly started singing “all she needed was some” and the boys just went with it. Additionally, the fact that they never actually state what "she" needs (in the song) symbolizes that they never gave it to her. In fact, it's the reason why Chance and Donald are "The Worst Guys."
We love the swagger and movement this dreamy tune brings. That slow-then-quick flow of Gambino's verses? That rockin' guitar solo at the end? To die for. We recommend listening to "I. The Worst Guys" while you're looking out of a car window during a road trip.
8. "Feels Like Summer"
One of the reasons why we look forward to summer every year is because once the weather gets warmer, it's appropriate to blast this track.
“Feels Like Summer,” later released as “42.26,” is the tenth track on Gambino’s fourth studio album 3.15.20, which was released during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Bino first released the track, alongside “Summertime Magic,” on the morning of July 11, 2018: in the middle of the summer. Fittingly, the tracks were released to streaming services under the title Summer Pack.
While the vibe of this song is super warm and relaxing, it actually covers various issues facing our world today. He mentions the growing world population, artificial intelligence, climate change, water scarcity, air pollution, colony collapse disorder (the dying of bees), and deforestation. A lot of seriousness for such a sweet song!
Another reason fans appreciate "Feels Like Summer" is for its heartwarming music video. In the visual, an animated Gambino walks down a neighborhood street packed with notable rappers and celebrities.
It's really hard to pick our favorite song from Camp. There's "Les," "Kids," and "Heartbeat" to consider. But when it comes to energy, legacy, and love from fans, nothing tops "Bonfire."
"Bonfire" is absolutely over-the-top...but in a good way. Like the title of the album this track is from, this song is unapologetically campy. It's easy to laugh while listening to the outrageous references. But at the same time, it also has some of the most genius wordplay Gambino has ever put out. For example, the line, "my d--- is like an accent mark, it's all about the over e's" is a triple entendre: it alludes to foreign language, musical notation, and sexual anatomy all in thirteen words.
Not only is "Bonfire" a hyped-up song about Gambino's power, it's also about him taking every bad thing the haters have coughed up about him and using it to fuel his ambition. Just like he says, we think this song is hot like a parked car.
A stark contrast to the edgy "Bonfire," this song is all about being smooth and chill. "Sober" comes off the Kauai EP side of Childish Gambino’s STN MTN/Kauai project.
This song details a relationship ending, and Gambino never wanting to be sober again due to the pain. The song could have been made around the time a girl Donald wanted to marry broke up with him. He told VICE around the time, "We went to Australia and I was just super depressed...I was really f----- up after that, because I had this girl that I thought I was going to marry and we broke up. I didn’t feel like I knew what I was doing."
Many have compared "Sober" to something off a Michael Jackson album. Between Glover's high notes during the song's beat switch and Thriller-esque dance moves in the music video, he definitely calls back to the King of Pop's talents.
5. "Me and Your Mama"
Every song off Awaken, My Love! is a bop, but not all of them hit you as hard as "Me and Your Mama" does in the album's opening. It's basically a hip build-up to an intense, satisfying bass drop and possibly the best vocal performance Gambino has ever given.
Gambino premiered “Me and Your Mama” on Apple Music’s Beats 1 Radio with Zane Lowe. The dreamy marriage between funk and rock served as the first preview of his highly anticipated third studio album. Prior to its official release, Gambino wheeled the track out a number of times to excite fans. After much speculation surrounding the possible end of his music career, Gambino headlined the 2015 Bonnaroo Music Festival and surprised fans with this then-untitled song. The song was next spotted in a promo entitled “Momma” for the first season of Atlanta, then played again during Gambino's secret PHAROS music festival.
"Me and Your Mama" is both hopelessly romantic and tinged with a fleck of darkness. It's because the song is about Gambino falling deeply in love with a woman, but also about how much they smoke together. It makes you wonder: is he truly in love with this woman or just the experience of being high with her? To find out the answer, you'll just have to listen to the rest of the album.
Being a pretentious rich kid has never sounded cooler than on Gambino's Because the Internet standout "Sweatpants." It's a braggadocious track that sees Gambino flaunting his wealth. Though it's not actually Gambino - it's a rich kid alter-ego he created for the Because the Internet screenplay.
Gambino has stated the title references how rich people can wear whatever they want to any kind of affair and always get away with it because of their status. The deeper meaning of "Sweatpants" is up to fan interpretation, but many believe it to be about the rich boy having an existential crisis once he learns being rich is no substitute for having an authentic personality. Is he actually "doing me better than you're doing you," or is he just faking it?
Additionally, Gambino makes a jab at nepotism during the song's hyper-speed second verse. Besides talking about the Coppola family, he raps "I don't give a f--- about my family name." It correlates to his last name, Glover, and how it's already been taken by Danny Glover. It also correlates to how rich children often have little respect for their family name, even though their family is the reason they have all the fame and fortune they possess. In other words: it's a false sense of entitlement.
A Gambino classic! It's hard to describe what makes "3005" so great - it just is. With catchy lyrics, astounding electronic music production by Stefan Ponce & Ludwig Göransson, and a bittersweet message about existentialism, "3005" has always been a fan favorite. It's a great song to show new listeners first if they're looking to get into Gambino's music.
“I feel like I write best in the morning,” Gambino told Fuse News during an interview in 2013. “I wrote ‘3005’ in the morning. All the good songs where I’m like, ‘How did I even come up with that?’ were probably remnants from dreams...I feel like when you first wake up, you’re still close to who you really are.”
On "3005," Gambino also said, "Everybody’s like, ‘It’s a love song,’ it’s kind of an existential thing. I’m just really scared of being alone. When I was little, there was a big dog down the street. I was really scared of it. But when I was with my sister, when I knew I had to protect her, I wasn’t afraid of the dog as much because somebody was there. I had a purpose...I kind of feel lost. I kind of lost that, I feel."
Although the song is about loneliness, there's a very welcome tone to it thanks to upbeat sounds and Gambino's "I'll be right by your side 'til 3005." It's simply about wanting to hold someone's hand until the end, even though you may argue with them or have different goals in life.
A funky Gambino staple about relationship paranoia! According to Ludwig Göransson, this track is heavily inspired by Funkadelic: George Clinton’s 1970s psychedelic funk band. Gambino even sent Göransson Funkadelic’s music as a reference point for the production, which was created mostly on live instruments.
"Redbone" received worldwide acclaim almost immediately after it was released, shooting to #12 on Billboard’s Hot 100 list, then getting a second wind four months later when parodies of the song turned it into a meme. Most notably, “Redbone” was featured in the opening credits of Jordan Peele’s Oscar-winning horror film, Get Out. Peele was attracted to the "Stay woke" line in the song, which he felt the heroes in the story needed to do in order to survive.
The song eventually won Best Traditional R&B Performance at the 2018 Grammy Awards. We love "Redbone" for its dramatic story, yet mellow tone that's perfect for parties, steamy mixtapes, or just lounging around the house. "Redbone," along with all the songs on Awaken, My Love!, saw Gambino move away from his traditional hip-hop roots towards a more R&B sound. This song proved he could master both.
1. "This Is America"
Last but not least, Childish Gambino's undisputed masterpiece about the Black American experience.
Every Gambino fan remembers where they were in 2018 when this song first dropped. Everyone was entertained enough by Donald Glover's debut hosting gig on SNL. Then, with no warning, Gambino performed the song live and his team released the bombshell music video onto YouTube. The next few days, "This Is America" was all anyone was talking about. It was a cultural phenomenon. And for good reason: it held a mirror up to American culture. As time goes on, its message gets more and more relevant.
We can't say anything about "This is America" that hasn't been said before: it's been thoroughly analyzed by several music geeks and academic scholars. (If you're looking for a deep examination of the song, we recommend you check out this video essay by Insider and Professor Lori Brooks' breakdown for Inside Edition). What we can say is that "This Is America" - both the song and video - have presented several important discussions about race, gun violence, gratuitous entertainment, and technology in America.
As for some commentary about the music production, "This Is America" expertly utilizes African-inspired chants and instruments, gospel choir harmonies, and hardcore electronic beats to tell its story. It's light and carefree one second, then dark and aggressive the next. It highlights the cyclical shifts in mood whenever there is a shooting or an instance of police brutality in America. One second, the entire nation is in an uproar. The next, everyone is happy and unconcerned, placated by pop culture trends.
This song has become so important, it's now common for people to use the phrase "This is America" whenever something happens in the United States that's tragic. There are several artistic works which expose the flaws of the American dream, as well as America's treatment of Black people. But in the world of music, no song brings down those messages harder than Gambino's "This Is America."
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