The Gifted & Beyond
When Wale announced his third album, The Gifted, it was clear that he was setting out to make something completely different from all of his previous projects. In an interview with Philly radio station Power 99, he said "It's going to have one sound, very, very soulful," and told MTV that it would be his first opportunity to truly "stand on my own sonically as an artist." What this seemed to translate to was a more organic sound that drew from the expansive soul records made by guys like Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and Smokey Robinson in the '60s and '70s. There was still the odd track like "Clappers" that was a clear attempt to get on the radio, for the most part, this album was less tied to prevailing trends in rap than any of Wale's other post-Mixtape About Nothing releases.
Instead, we got wah-wah guitars, lush strings and expertly-tweaked drums, all of which added to the project's ambitious scope. To make a convenient, if not 100% accurate comparison, The Gifted is to Wale what Dark Sky Paradise is to Big Sean: an attempt to create a cohesive project after some more mixed-bag offerings-- "IDFWU" is Sean's "Clappers;" "Black Heroes" is Wale's "One Man Can Change The World." Whether you thought it was a classic or not, The Gifted is most likely to be your favorite Wale album. Here's standout track "LoveHate Thing."
After The Gifted turned up on many year-end lists (though not Complex's, which Wale was pretty pissed about), he faced a little more label drama thanks to Meek Mill, who publicly called him out for not supporting Dreams Worth More Than Money, but thankfully that petty conflict didn't result in Wale being dropped. He spent most of last year trying to get a release date for The Album About Nothing, and when it became clear that it wouldn't be dropping in 2014, he instead hit us with the Festivus tape as a primer. His first Seinfeld-influenced release in about six years, it whipped day-one Wale fans into an excited frenzy, seeing the rapper bringing all of his major label experience back into a more relatable, relaxed setting. It saw him pairing up with A-Trak, who works closely with Nick Catchdubs at Fool's Gold, so the tape bears some of the upbeat fun that 100 Miles did. Loopy beats like "Blood Money 3.5" and nostalgic samples (Janet Jackson's "Go Deep" is flipped on "Girls On Drugs") butt heads with the trappy Fat Trel collab and a song called "Juggin," but the loose, eclectic feel works better here than it did on Attention Deficit.
Thus far, the only two tracks we've heard from The Album About Nothing are both collaborations with R&B singers, so it's difficult to say what the rest of the album will sound like. Now that we've seen the tracklist, it looks like "The Matrimony" and "The Body" will close out the project, which is dope considering their similarities, but there are still 12 unheard joints. Like The Mixtape About Nothing and More About Nothing before it, all of the album's song titles begin with "The" (true to the titles of Seinfeld episodes), but that's about the only other clue we have at this point. It could end up sounding closer to his early material, but with Jeremih and Usher features already on the docket, it looks like Wale might be going for a bona fide big-ticket project with high-profile guests and larger-than-life beats rather than something more homespun. Whatever the case, The Album About Nothing will represent the culmination of one of the most successful, inventive series of releases in recent memory, and you can bet that it will further Mr. Folarin's evolution even more.