Gambino drops double feature

“STN MTN” is the mixtape portion of Childish Gambino’s “STN MTN/Kauai” dual release. It’s a notable departure from his previous styles. Gambino’s previous release, 2013’s “Because the Internet,” was a very experimental record that Gambino himself described as “not a rap album.” 2011’s “Camp” was a lighthearted and joke-heavy outing from an artist just finding his style, while “STN MTN” is a relatively straightforward rap offering and a tribute to Atlanta culture and musicians that came before Gambino.

That’s not to say that it runs on cliches. “STN MTN” is a well-made production, the product of collaboration between Childish Gambino and DJ Drama (of Gangsta Grillz mix tape fame). It also folds into the screenplay behind “Because the Internet,” with the “STN MTN” mix tape being representation of a dream had by The Boy, the central character of “Because the Internet.”

In the end, though, production values and collaborators and cool concepts aren’t what matter about a mix tape. The music is what matters and on this front, “STN MTN” delivers; assuming hard-hitting Atlanta rap is your thing. It borrows beats from various artists, including Kari Faux and Maceo. Rap aficionados will surely recognize and appreciate these musical allusions, but even if they go over your head they still sound just fine.

“Dream/Southern Hospitality/Partna Dem,” “No Small Talk,” “Money Baby” and “Go DJ” are the standout tracks here; they carry the harsh, bass-heavy tone of the mix tape well while still delivering a healthy dose of Gambino’s signature flow. The entire is still well worth a listen, though, and the tracks fade into one another smoothly enough that you often won’t notice the tracks changing. “STN MTN” also transitions flawlessly into its companion EP “Kauai,” a vastly different piece of musical work that’s also worth checking out (and reviewed in this issue of The Oracle).

On the whole, “STN MTN” is a solid offering from Childish Gambino. It may not be quite up to the standard of “Because the Internet,” but given that it’s coming so close on the heels of that album’s December 2013 release, I’d feel wrong complaining.

In conjunction with the release of his mix tape “STN MTN,” rapper Childish Gambino dropped his new EP “Kauai.” The EP is meant to be a companion piece to “STN MTN.”

“Kauai” deviates from Gambino’s usual alternative rap for more of an R&B feel. Gambino does more singing than he does rhyme spitting, and his vocal delivery is solid throughout the seven-song EP. Jaden Smith is also featured on two tracks on the album as “The Boy” for the story encompassing “Kauai” and “STN MTN.”

The EP’s opener, “Sober,” features repetitious keyboards and a guitar on the hook, showing that Gambino wants this collection of songs to sound different than his previous work.

The tracks “Poke” and “The Pallisades” showcase Gambino’s singing ability and that he really knows how to lay down a groovy beat with a catchy hook. The production for the entire EP is the main highlight, but these two tracks in particular are the best examples of the R&B sound for which Gambino seems to be aspiring. The new direction Gambino takes on the EP is an interesting one especially after his sophomore LP, 2013’s “Because the Internet.”

The R&B route mostly works on this EP when Gambino actually sticks with it. The track “Late Night in Kauai” features Smith narrating an evening on a beach. In a five-minute song that’s half devoted to Smith describing the setting and just saying random sentences to an island beat, it seems almost like filler. Gambino comes in on the track around the two-minute mark and starts doing a hybrid of his rapping/singing, and it sounds smooth and on point. It’s after that where the track loses steam, with two more minutes of Gambino making grunting noises.

The last track on the EP, “V. 3005-Beach Picnic Version,” is a remix of Gambino’s lead single “3005” from “Because the Internet.” The track features a sped-up rendition of the chorus from “3005” with horns added in the give the track a spacey feel. Overall the track is mellow and is a solid song to end the EP, but the chorus feels unnecessary when it’s virtually the only thing on this beat.

In the end “Kauai” is a step in a different direction for Gambino; not strictly the correct one, but it isn’t a total misfire either. Where “Kauai” falls short is some of the song styling and the unnecessary usage of Jaden Smith to narrate some of the tracks. Most of this EP should please Gambino fans because it shows that he can make a mostly R&B track collection work. If Gambino continues to work on his writing and production in the R&B realm, he could soon be a double-threat in that arena as well as hip-hop, and that’s something to look forward to for fans and genre enthusiasts alike.