Childish Gambino, Ludwig Göransson & More On Making 'Awaken My Love!' | Album Of The Year
Not long after the first 30 seconds of "Me And Your Mama" sounded, it was evident that Donald Glover's former hip-hop alias, Childish Gambino, was on some other s***. After honing his trippy rhyming skills on his 2011 debut, Camp, and 2013's Because The Internet, the world saw Glover take a voyeuristic turn for the stars — all while his name and status ascended with the overwhelming success of his FX series, "Atlanta" — with his third album, "Awaken, My Love!"
A strikingly funky masterpiece worshipping the Afro-futuristic philosophy birthed by Parliament-Funkadelic, Glover's rebellious ambition made for unarguably one of his best bodies of work. All the while, it ultimately reminded us that in 2017 and beyond, funk's sexy and slow-burning tone still has the ability to move the masses.
To date, "Awaken, My Love!" has received an outpour of acclaim, including its debut at No. 5 on the Billboard 200 and a 60th GRAMMY Awards nomination for Album Of The Year, one of five total nods.
Below, key players behind "Awaken, My Love!" share their story of how Gambino achieved sonic gold.
Ludwig Göransson (producer/bassist): I first produced some of [Childish Gambino's] first two albums and when it became time to make the third one, we just sat down and had a discussion. He talked about how he wanted to get in the studio and experiment with a band. We didn't know where exactly it was going to go but we basically booked a studio for two weeks, got a full band in there, and spent everyday jamming on ideas and seeing where we could take it.
Bernie Grundman (mastering engineer): At first, [the project] was under a different name: Charles Stone. It may have been a fictitious name. But even Childish Gambino, I wasn't aware of that name. But as time went on, we understood what was going on. This was like a new experience for me in way. We started back in March  and it was really one of those things where they kept sending various things for me to work on and we'd just send things back and forth.
Ibra Ake (cover artist): I feel like there's no set moment when Donald told me he was doing "Awaken, My Love!" I always work with him in some capacity creatively so I'm always hearing different music he's working on. So it never truly ends. It's just a matter of when it's packaged and released. One day I ended up just getting an email about shooting cover art for the album.
Kari Faux (vocalist): Prior to him making his album, we had worked together. He remixed my song. So essentially I was a part of his Royalty camp, which is like his crew of people that he works with. We were all staying in this house in the Hills that he called the Factory. At the time, he was working on "Awaken, My Love!" and "Atlanta." I was also working on my album, Lost In Los Angeles, too. It was like one big creative house so everyone had a hand in each other's projects.
"['Awaken, My Love!' is] one of the more adventurous left turns we've seen as far as musicality in a long time."
Göransson: For this project, we just wanted to start in the studio and jam and experiment. It was for quite some time that we did that. And then Donald and I went back to my studio and sat with that for almost a year and made a crazy experimental album that we later kind of scrapped and made a different album, which is the one [that was released].
*Childish Gambino (artist): It's funny, I think people hear the album and, to be completely honest, it wasn't a lot of fun. It was actually really hard. I was going through a lot, and I also think in America we're going through a lot right now, with everything that's going on.
Göransson: It took us two years to make "Awaken, My Love!" It is significantly longer than our usual turnaround time because we essentially made two albums. We first made this extremely experimental body of work that was really out there. We only ended up keeping "Me And Your Mama" and made a universe from it. It was definitely the seed from the album. When we had to go back and rediscover what we wanted, that song was like the bones of what the album became. So we always went back to that song.
Grundman: ["Awaken, My Love!"] had a certain uniqueness to it for sure [when I first heard it — not knowing who Donald was]. There's a lot of interesting elements in "Awaken, My Love!" It's almost theatrical. It seemed to be an album that moves from different points of views and inspirations.
*Childish Gambino: Actually, there wasn't a ton of vocal stuff done. I think people hear "Redbone" and they're like, "Oh, he switched all his vocals." And like, there was no vocal pitching on the album. I just sang differently. ... Some sounds on it aren't instruments at all. They're just my voice, or just clicks on my tongue.
Grundman: It had some classical elements, too. It was picturesque and funky. That made it more interesting for me, but it meant more work. An album has to flow and be comfortable going from tune to tune to tune. And so we had to fool around with things here and there and with the equalization to get things to flow and feel enough similar to where they have an album continuity.
Göransson: This album was definitely challenging. In the process of making it, we basically had another full-length album that we thought was it and then we realized the music was cool but it wasn't what Donald had in mind. So we had to go back to the drawing board, get the band back together for a second time, switch gears and really focus specifically on what the sound Donald was going for. It's always challenging when you make music and have to throw it away. Another challenge was taking all the organic music recorded with the band in this like psychedelic world and how to make it in a way that it could've been made 30 or 40 years ago.
Ake: The artwork itself is very interrupting. We wanted it to scare a kid if they found it in the right circumstances, as like vinyl. It was very open to interpretation, but I feel like Donald trusted me a lot with a lot of the taste choices. Many times, he's thinking [about] or changing ideas faster than he can articulate so I kind of have to present him with what I think he means and we adjust from there. Essentially we referenced Funkadelic art and just how the art felt raw and over the top. There were a lot of spacey elements too. If you look at that image, it's not something you see every day. It's like a Björk image.
Faux: Looking back, I just remember there being a lot of music being played all the time. Those instruments were live, like actual musicians would come to the house and set up a jam session in the middle of the living room. They'd play for hours. It was really dope to see an album come to life. Even now when I hear "Redbone" on the radio it's so weird because it's like, "Wow, I was there at the inception of it."
Ake: I think [an Album Of The Year] GRAMMY [nomination] is well-deserved. It's one of the more adventurous left turns we've seen as far as musicality in a long time.
Faux: It's really dope because Donald works really hard. I mean, for us that know and have worked with him, that's already known. But to actually have like zero degrees of separation and be so close in proximity of this man and see how hard he works, is inspiring.
*As told to "Triple J Breakfast" radio show
(Ashley Monaé is a Brooklyn-based writer. Her work has appeared in the pages of PAPER and Nylon and online at Pitchfork, Billboard and Highsnobiety, among others.)