When someone mentions Atlanta Hip-Hop, who comes to mind? Perhaps Young Jeezy, Outkast, Jermaine Dupri, Lil Jon, Ludacris, 2 Chainz, T.I. maybe even Soulja Boy. These rappers have been the tastemakers of Atlanta’s rap scene for more than a decade. With the exception of Outkast, all the rappers mentioned above have a few things in common that have shaped “Atlanta” rap music. For starters, they are all self proclaimed hustlers that have made it from the trap house to the mansion. This “hustler” persona is everywhere in Hip-Hop but seems particularly strong in ATL. Aside from that, Atlanta’s style is what sets it apart. They have culturally popularized synth heavy strip club anthems, commanding delivery and basically anything that could be played in a candy painted chop top.
However, someone that doesn’t exactly fit into this category is Atlanta bred rapper, Childish Gambino. Many people are familiar with his music but unaware of where he’s from and understandably so. Gambino, better known to some as Donald Glover, has been giving us quality Hip-Hop music for years now but doesn’t really fit any particular “rapper” mold. His rapping style is a mix of rapid fire bars, infectious hooks and progressive beats; not exactly the Atlanta rap poster boy. Despite his unconventional southern style, Childish Gambino reps his hometown more than anyone; especially on his newest project entitled STN MTN/Kauai.
The six letter abbreviation stands for Stone Mountain, a small suburb in the Atlanta Metropolitan Area, where Gambino grew up. Hosted by none other than Atlanta legend, DJ Drama, STN MTN serves as Childish’s very own Gangsta Grillz mixtape. The significance of the Gangsta Grillz mixtape series runs deep in Hip-Hop. Drama’s prestigious mixtape series has be known to propel rappers into superstardom. Just look at the Lil Wayne’s Dedication series or even the critically acclaimed, Trap or Die, mixtape which sent Young Jeezy right into the hottest MCs list.
As seen in Lil Wayne’s Gangsta Grillz series, the main focus is to simply murder other people’s beats. A recurring theme in any Gangsta Grillz mixtape is that the featured rapper hand picks popular beats in the industry and proceeds to spazz on them. This allows the “he got murdered on his own song” conversation to arise between fans and critics alike. On STN MTN, Gambino does just that; to an extent. The 11 track mixtape features all already popular beats following the Gangsta Grillz formula whereas the Kauai portion features original content. He sets the tape off with an Atlanta anthem, “Southern Hospitality.” The Ludacris and Pharrell smash hit got a Gambino facelift as he confidently raps “For real, Bino on a mission”; which is clear. It’s strange, however, hearing the Neptunes produced beat without Ludacris screaming “Cadillac grills, Cadillac mills, check out the oil my Cadillac spills.” But in all honesty, that’s kind of the point of the mixtape.
Childish also goes in over popular tracks including “Move That Dope” by Future, “All Y’all” by Timbaland, “No Small Talk” by Kari Faux, “Money Baby” by K Camp and “Go DJ” by Lil Wayne. Unlike the latter rapper who, on his Gangsta Grillz mixtapes, had no problem rapping aimless song after song, Gambino strikes more as a full package artist. On all of his previous projects, he has fully produced, composed, rapped and sang the entire thing. At first glance, it seems out of the ordinary that he would choose to to just rap on someone else’s beat. That being said, after a full listen, you can understand why.
It is clear to see that on each of these tracks, Childish is displaying his lyrical superiority. Often overlooked for his “bars”, it made sense as to why he would want Drama to simply cut on a beat so he could completely spazz on the track. He steps up to the plate and delivers the fire that is required on a mixtape like this. In all honesty, his rendition of “Move That Dope” is significantly better than any of the verses on the original. He proves on all of these covers that his versatility is nothing to mess with. For 11 tracks straight, Gambino not only kills people on their own tracks but shows that he can do it all. His raps are on point and he doesn’t hold back on showing his melodic side. On K Camp’s “Money Baby”, Gambino without question out raps him and out sings him without using the auto-tune crutch. The rest of the tape just follows suit.
To contrast the STN MTN side of things, Kauai is much different. Released as a dual project, Kauai features all original content. Lasting 7 songs in total, this side of the project was put out on iTunes as a commercial release. iTunes or not, the two sides couldn’t be more polarizing in terms of vibe. As soon as the 11th track ends on STN MTN and the first track starts on Kauai, the mood drastically switches. That initial track entitled “Sober” gives off a melodic, funk ballad feel which is a complete 180 from the lyrical assassinations happening a few tracks prior. Those soulful, message heavy songs keep coming as you dive deeper into the EP; almost too much. Consistency on a project can absolutely help a rapper’s sound but in this case, the songs are just too similar to have a real impact. Both the subject matter and the instrumentation have little to no diversity throughout the 7 tracks. On top of that, Jaden Smith makes two interesting appearances on the EP as the whole thing is allegedly about him and the character portrayed in Gambino’s previous works. Concept or not, Will’s son seems out of place.
All in all, Childish Gambino’s STN MTN/Kauai is if nothing, a statement. A statement that he can make music with the best of them. Sure, he could quite possibly be the total opposite of a traditional Atlanta emcee, but he does have one thing in common with them; those Georgia streets made him the artist he is today. From flexing his lyrical capabilities alongside DJ Drama on STN MTN to showing his artsy side alongside Jaden Smith on Kauai, Gambino proves he is multifaceted. He can rap, he can sing and he most certainly knows how to show the haters that he is here to stay whether you like it or not.
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