Wale is a name that comes with serious levels of ambivalence. Since making the transition from a mixtape artist to a mainstream artist, it seems as if public opinion on him has oscillated between acclaim and vitriol with not much of anything else in between. Part of this unstable reception can be attributed to Wale himself.
With his first two albums, debut LP Attention Deficit (Interscope) and sophomore LP Ambition (Maybach Music/Warner Brothers), listeners were introduced to two very different Wales. On his debut LP, Wale seemed a little timid and reserved. The album’s content featured his thoughts on skin tones, eating disorders and other idiosyncratic topics. After signing with Maybach Music to release his sophomore album, Wale‘s songs began to sound like the lost tracks from Rick Ross’ Deeper Than Rap. The rhymes were more narcissistic and boastful and the production was noticeably more club friendly. And unlike his first album which was somewhat of a flop, Ambition, went Gold. Given these differing personas, it makes sense that Wale inspires such ambivalence.
With this third album, The Gifted, listeners are once again seeing another face of Wale. This time, however, it seems like he has somewhat found his lane. Somewhat. The album comes complete with big production from Just Blaze, Lee Majors, Stokley Williams of Mint Condition and more, and features Wale being self-reflective, boastful, a little flirty and even unabashedly weird.
The album opens with “The Case of The Gifted,” which includes brief commentary and a graffiti spray can. Rapping over a combination of dramatic keys and guitar strings, Wale use the track to explain the good and the bad that come with being “gifted.” For “LoveHate Thing” Wale essentially continues with the same idea as the intro. Over a Marvin Gaye sample Wale raps, “Love you then they hate you/ then they love you again/ hate you then they love you/ then they hate you again.” Wale is clearly aware of his public reception.
On “Heaven’s Afternoon,” Wale recruits his Maybach Music comrade Meek Mill for a track that tells a rags-to- riches story. Interestingly, they shout out Pro Era frontman Joey Bada$$ and his now deceased friend Capital Steez. The hook which says, “We ain’t supposed to never have nothing/ we ain’t supposed to never have shit,” shows some more self-awareness. Both Meek and Wale’s memberships in MMG truly made their careers.
For “Clappers,” Wale samples perhaps one of the greatest family reunion/parties tracks of all time (E.U.- “Da Butt”). For the track, Wale hooks up with Nicki Minaj and Juicy J, the reigning rap royalty of twerk songs. Surprisingly, the song isn’t very compelling. It’s kind of boring, actually. “Tired of Dreaming,” which features Rick Ross and Ne-Yo, is a pretty interesting effort. In the song he details his ideal woman, from her teeth to her feet. It’s easy to group “Tired of Dreaming” along with “Lotus Flower Bomb” and “Ambition” and declare that these are “songs for the ladies,” but Wale actually has a talent for discussing romance without sounding unnatural. This talent is also showcased on radio single “Bad” which is featured two times on the album, one version with Rihanna and the original with Tiara Thomas. In other words, rather than “songs for the ladies,” Wale makes song for casual listeners. If casual listeners to rap just so happen to often be ladies, so be it. Not every rap song requires shouting and anger.
In the end, the album is a decent effort, but there’s still a feeling that Wale is in flux. Even sonically, the overall sound of the album fluctuates quite a bit. Wale’s lyrics gets overshadowed by the production on tracks like “88” and “Bricks” while his lyrics are notably amped up on other songs. Additionally, the length of the album also is a downfall. Since every track on the album is not necessarily a good or memorable effort, 16-tracks feels a little excessive and unnecessary. If Wale made an album with perhaps ten of the tracks( including the bonus track “Hella”), the project would have been significantly better. Hopefully his next album, Album About Nothing, with Jerry Seinfeld, will show us a Wale who has somewhat crystallized into a solid artist.
That being said, having a stable image isn’t necessary for making good art. Rihanna changes every album. But then again, perhaps her stable trait is her ability to change. Whoa. Good luck, Wale.
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