When a rapper tries to convince you that “I’m trend-setting, despite an awful debut,” feelings of hesitancy that arise should be treated as a completely normal reaction. Despite the critical acclaim that his debut album “Attention Deficit” (2009) received, Wale has failed to garner to commercial success that many of his hip-hop counterparts have already achieved. So Wale did what any over-achieving artist would do: he signed with a mainstream label (Rick Ross’ Maybach Music Group) in hopes to find a new outlet for his music. Yet for all of Wale’s assurances that he is still setting trends, “Ambition,” (2011) his second album, features poetic depth but still lacks the mass appeal that would solidify the rapper as a breakout star.
There is no doubt that Wale is a talented lyricist. With highly touted mixtapes under his belt (see “Mixtape About Nothing”), the DMV native is comfortable spitting about his love of sports on one track while seamlessly dropping some philosophical knowledge on the next.
^ Wale – DC or Nothing
On “Double M Genius,” the album’s second track, Wale describes his talents as “That Kevin Love flow/ Bored of the shooters,” referencing the talented NBA big-man while simultaneously snubbing the players that play off the wing as well as the rappers that drone on about their pistols and semi-automatics. On the other end of the lyrical spectrum, Wale declares on “DC or Nothing” that “leadership is not with a timid sail,/ I pray these words live and these gimmicks fail.”
However, while Wale’s rhymes may require multiple listens to truly value the depth of his words, the musical production of the album is lacking. When first bursting onto the rap scene, a distinct characteristic of Wale’s music was it’s interaction with Washington D.C. originated go-go music. Characterized by syncopated percussion with a disco flair, go-go music provided Wale’s tracks with a favorable alternative vibe. Unfortunately, go-go music has a ghostly presence on “Ambition,” as it is faded out by 808 drums and overpowering bass lines.
From looking at the albums tracklist, one can clearly recognize the influence that Wale’s association with Rick Ross’ Maybach Music Group has had on his sophomore album. Whether he is praising the Ross’ favorite city on “Miami Nights” or featuring his Maybach Music counterparts on “Ambition” and “That Way,” Wale is clearly a member of the Maybach family. But what is a sneakerhead rapper with introspective lyrics doing on a label that bases its material on criminal activity? It seems as though Wale himself is confused on the subject.
^ Wale – Chain Music
On “Chain Music,” a bonus track off the album, Wale presents his frustration at how audiences pay attention when he is rapping about money and women, but not when he is trying to send a positive message to his listeners. “Trying to give them light and a message,” Wale says, “But you rather have some f-ing V.V.S’s.” While Mr. Folarin is sad to be in this predicament, he still revels in the attention. Referring to a luxurious lifestyle, Wale says, “I got that geechi on her, came back: a hundred chains,/ And now these geechi motherf-ers all know my name.” Without firmly taking a stance on the matter of money and chains, Wale leaves this tension unresolved which in turn leaves the listener unsettled.
^ Wale (feat. Big Sean) – Slight Work
The rest of the album plays out with solid standards that have little mainstream potential. “Lotus Flower Bomb” rises above many of the tracks. Featuring a crooning Miguel, the track features hits of a snare against the backdrop of a soft keyboard melody. Conversely, “Slight Work” offers comical verses by Wale and guest rapper Big Sean, yet falls flat on its face due to the irritating left-field production from noted DJ and producer Diplo.
Although Wale has two albums and at least four mixtapes under his belt, he still remains a question mark. He clearly has the lyrical ability to hold his own, but what is he not saying that refuses to connect with a wider audience? While “Ambition” is entertaining, it does little to showcase a rising star. Two years removed from his debut album and under a new label, Wale is confident that he is setting trends. However, it still remains to be seen if general audiences will start catching on to his trends, or will simply let them fade and be forgotten.