An image of rapper Childish Gambino

Childish Gambino – Atavista

The multi-talented Donald Glover, known to the music industry under the alias Childish Gambino, has never really been one for convention. The surprise release of his “previous” album 3.15.20 with relatively no fanfare or traditional marketing cycle demonstrated that pretty clearly. Perhaps it should come as no surprise, then, that his reworked and completed version of the same album – now titled Atavista – received a similar surprise release, summarily replacing the previous version of the album on streaming services everywhere. Relatively unprecedented as that is, it’s not too hard to see the logic in the bait & switch. 3.15.20 was an experiment of sorts, released in a tumultuous period both for Glover personally and for the world at large, and comprised mostly of tracks named only with a timestamp. Atavista, by comparison, is decidedly more complete, and its digital usurping of its predecessor feels more like receiving a final draft than anything else. Despite the familiarity of a few parts, Atavista has no shortage of new delights for returning listeners. Glover’s signature musical versatility is on full display throughout, right from the album’s brand new, titular opening track.

The song “Atavista” sees Glover return to peak R&B form. Soulful and impeccably groovy in the vein of earlier hits like “Redbone,” and touched with added flair from some trendy retro-futuristic synthesizer pulsations, it feels something like a mission statement for the album at large. “Atavism,” per Merriam-Webster, means among other things the “recurrence of or reversion to a past style, manner, outlook, approach, or activity.” Both “Atavista” and its parent album fit that definition to a tee.

Refreshing and recognizable all at once, Atavista seems to be Glover tying up a loose end in his discography, and its unexpected release comes at something of a liminal period for its creator. With a fourth, and potentially final Childish Gambino album on the horizon, Glover may be putting this persona to rest sooner rather than later. If/when that happens, he’s certainly left us with quite a bit to chew on, and the strange, fascinating life cycle of 3.15.20 and Atavista won’t be the least of it.

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