It felt like we had won a contest to go camping with Childish Gambino. The weather was perfect: moderately cloudy and hovering around 70 degrees. With the last flicker of day light disappearing through the surrounding trees of Prospect Park, Gambino (known outside of the rap world as Donald Glover) trotted on stage past a set of fake trees—in keeping with the theme of the night and his debut album Camp—to ignite the night.
After opening with the choir-ish “Outside” and “Fire Fly,” a track that sounds a close relative to Kanye’s “Good Life,” Gambino described his excitement of playing Prospect Park. “Man, I used to live down the street from here,” he said. It was a celebratory homecoming of sorts and Gambino was on his A game, prancing around the stage like a veteran, hitting every syllable of his verses with a confident ferocity. Every so often his standup comedic style would show through with his punny one liners and witty delivery. At one point he even skipped across the stage gesturing his arms above his head screaming, “Lemme see your bowflex!” But those moments were fleeting as Glover attempted to keep his two lives separate to maintain his often-attacked hip-hop legitimacy.
Wasting no time he burst into fan favorite “Freaks And Geeks” early in his set. The sound was near flawless as Gambino played with a full five-piece band, which often included a violin. But at times he also slowed it down, showing his versatility with soulful, R&B singing in tracks like “All The Shine” and “Letter Home.” The set peaked in intensity towards the end with “Bonfire,” one of Gambino’s most pissed off tracks that when played live rivaled some metal shows I’ve been to recently. After dropping some special live previews of his upcoming mixtape Royalty, one which featured up-and-coming MC Kilo Kish, Gambino called it a night.
Label him what you want, by the end of the set Gambino had commanded the stage like he’d been doing it for a decade. But for him—unlike his day job—it’s a joke-free endeavor. Because when Gambino is on stage, he doesn’t want you to see Glover the comedian or Troy from Community. He wants you to see him for what he is in that very moment: a clever MC who doesn’t need to rely on anything but his lyrical skill.