With the release of his third album, MMG rapper Wale aims to prove he can be both a lyricist and a poet and still achieve commercial success.
Wale may be a victim of bad timing. While most rap fans were in their glory last week with the release of albums from Kanye West, J. Cole and Mac Miller, others are feverishly looking forward to Jay-Z’s Magna Carta Holy Grail, which is dropping on Independence Day. The release date of Wale's third album is stuck in the middle.
Ralph Victor Folarin made a name for himself on the mixtape circuit pleasing rap purists and socially conscious Hip Hop heads alike with his lyrical wordplay concerning the struggles of the hood. Although there were some big commercial names on The D.C. native's debut album Attention Deficit, it hardly moved off the shelves, which some blame on the lack of promo by Interscope. Enter Rick Ross and his Maybach Music Group, who signed Wale to his label in 2011 and gave him a wider platform and the financial backing to experiment with his sound. Wale's second attempt, Ambition, debuted at the number two spot thanks to the widely successful "Lotus Flower Bomb" single featuring R&B crooner Miguel.
On his third album The Gifted, Wale continues in the direction of "Lotus Flower Bomb" and introduces a genre called "New Black Soul." Having fun with electric, funky beats layered with synths and catchy vocals, Wale embraces his inner poet. Several songs fall into this new classification including the first single "Bad" featuring Tiara Thomas, which was released back in February and has since gone gold. For the highly anticipated remix, Wale recruited the number one bad girl herself Rihanna. The funky yet smooth "LoveHate Thing" featuring singer and RocNation artist Sam Dew serves as the second single and a reinforcement that Wale is in touch with his softer side.
Never one to slack when it comes to his lyrics, Wale still raps about the struggles he's overcome, as many of his fans are still forced to deal with them every day. On "Heaven’s Afternoon" with Meek Mill, Wale pays homage to 19-year-old New York rapper Capital Steez who took his own life late last year:
"Riding through the cap, Cap Steez on the mind / I ain’t know him but I wish I did / Each one, teach one, may the youth live / On that note Joey Bad please hold your head / Lost one last summer, living ain’t fair / While them niggas scared, we forever here / Hate to see you smile, money everywhere / Dream killers out, I see them in the rear / Before I put them in a song, put them in a prayer"
While most current rappers find their niche rhyming about cars, clothes, popping bottles and the finer things in life, Wale maintains substance in his lyrics. Staying true to his self-conscious roots, "Golden Salvation (Jesus Piece)" is written from the perspective of Jesus Christ himself as he scolds his followers who kill and steal for an iced out Jesus piece instead of looking for Jesus' peace:
New chain swag get your crew laid fast / Or laid down or not a ticket next to Dad / And the Bible told you wait on my arrival / But patience was your problem / So get Jacob to come find me? And religion is a style, if not / Then why this shit cost a quarter mill? / No fugazi, see Jacob tell you that shit real"
The second half of The Gifted may not fall into the "New Black Soul" category, as Wale is definitely catering more to Hip Hop fans. In "Clappers," Wale joins forces with Juicy J and Nicki Minaj for a rousing, booty-shaking club banger. No doubt the video, which is currently in post-production, will snag millions of views just off of Nicki twerking alone. The bawse Rick Ross appears on "Tired of Dreaming" along with Ne-Yo. Sure to be another crowd favorite off of the album, it has the feel of Usher’s "Little Freak" with a more mature appeal. "Rotation" is about five blunts circulating, and who best to join him than Wiz Khalifa and 2 Chainz? Fans of Wale’s All About Nothing mixtape will be pleased to know there will be an Album About Nothing, mainly because comedian Jerry Seinfeld, who appears at the end of The Gifted, claims he's ready to hit the studio.
Alone on "Simple Man," Wale raps about keeping life simple instead of lavish over a minimal instrumental:
"To each his own but each of them is known to steal or rob you / The jails are overpopulated but know there’s some seats in college / And those are the least of problems, I speak to God he says I’m alright/ My vision funny, though 20/20’s my hindsight / Bad bitches with me, real niggas with me / Whole ghetto with me mixing Ketel with the Simply / Like the sweet anguish, find your peace baby / I know the millions you get come with a billion haters"
Many artists are afraid to grow and remain stagnant for too long. This isn't the case with Wale. He recruited an eclectic range of producers including Just Blaze, Lee Major, No Credit, Travis $cott and Sam Dew, who provided background vocals throughout the album. The result is a solid third project that shows growth and maturity and offers a little something for everybody. This is definitely not the average rap album. Like Wale declares on one of the tracks: "If you ain’t bouncing or two-stepping to this, something is wrong with you."