Childish Gambino has always kept his fans guessing and excited for what is coming next. His last project, Because the Internet, showcased a new side of Gambino that was conceptual, contemplative, focused, and progressive. The album’s multi-layered multimedia experience had the Internet buzzing. Less than a year after his second studio album he started hinting towards a mysterious project he was working on; there was no shortage of excitement. With no release date the project’s sudden appearance online came as a pleasant surprise to everyone.
The first side, STN MTN is a Gangsta Grillz mixtape, featuring commentary by DJ Drama. What comes off as a Royalty mixtape rehash at the start is actually much deeper. The album starts with a throwback monologue from Gambino depicting dreams of Atlanta. In this same dream, Gambino says he had his own Gangsta Grillz mixtape. By abruptly ending the album on “Go DJ” with the words “and then I woke up,” he creates a meta, Inception-like was it real? concept—just to mess with your brain.
Concept aside, Gambino’s intent on the mixtape seems to prove himself as a bonafide Atlantan. Full of Southern trap-inspired sounds and classic mixtape reinterpretations of hit songs, Gambino spits overtop of Ludacris’ classic “Southern Hospitality,” and transitions to “Partna Dem,” by Rich Kidz—both Atlanta artists.
STN MTN is full of great gems. “U Don’t Have to Call” gives us a taste of the Gambino’s softer side compared to the more familiar sound of “All Y’all,” encapsulating the Gangsta Grillz feel perfectly. The mixtape can loosely be summarized by the line, “God damn, I’m just being who I am / From that weird ass little kid to this ballin’ ass grown man,” which speaks to the establishment of a tougher, Atlanta born-and-raised side of Gambino we are presented with.
Despite this portrait the album gives us, Kauai, the B-side EP of this project, presents us with an entirely new style. Starting off with his single, “Sober,” which sounds like a Bruno Mars and Kanye West collaboration, the tone is set early for this part of the project. With a singing to rapping ratio of about 3:1, Kauai displays Gambino’s pop side. The album also adds to the story of The Boy, the protagonist from Because the Internet. However, this time he is portrayed by Internet legend Jaden Smith, who contributes a spoken word piece telling the story of an adolescent boy and a girl in Kauai, Hawaii. Kauai has some replay value with songs like “Poke,” an OutKast-style jam with an awesome verse from Gambino’s brother, Steve G. Lover.
Perhaps Gambino’s most braggadocious (but sincere) statement on the entire project comes from “Move That Dope / Nextel Chirp / Let Your Hair Blow,” when he raps, “I’m just making culture.” Gambino is pushing the boundaries of hip hop, embracing new forms of marketing, and exploring new musical frontiers. Although this might not be Childish Gambino’s most solid musical effort, experimentally it goes above and beyond. The surprise release of STN MTN / Kauai proves to Childish Gambino fans that he is not only embracing yet another new phase of artistry—he still has a number of tricks under his sleeve.