Wale’s forthcoming album may be the most pivotal step of his rap career.
The clock is ticking and the culture is shifting. The DMV star comes from what some may consider being the golden era in hip-hop–when rappers cared not only about what they were putting out but also about the intended listener. This along with DC’s Go-Go culture, Nigerian influences via his parents, a paranoid yet arguably narcissistic personality, and you have Wale. “Real rap” or simply put, lyricism seems to be increasingly scarce in 2018, as popular rappers these days are more infatuated with trolling on social media, dating a celebrity, or self-snitching on Instagram. The point is, it’s not all about the music anymore, and that’s a problem for someone like Wale. With this current climate, the anxiety-ridden, pessimistic, overly obsessive rapper that many of us have grown to love (or grown to accept), may find himself slowly losing his footing in the music industry–at no direct fault of his own.
There’s no question that Wale is talented and has proven to be consistent. Unlike some of your favorite rappers, the “old” version of Wale is nearly the same Wale that he is now, lyrically speaking at least. While The Album About Nothing was admittedly not one of my favorite Wale projects, it is probably one of his most underrated bodies of work that he’s ever put out to the masses. When compared to More About Nothing (which happens to be one of my favorites), it’s almost like he never left. However, if I were to tell Wale to “see your mates” in my old Nigerian uncle accent, I would hand him the ’09 GQ Cover featuring him, Drake, and Kid Cudi. OluwaDrizzy has out blown his contemporaries, while Cudi and Wale are comparable in terms of fan base and sales. However, many would say Kid Cudi has achieved “Legend” status, credited to his first two MOTM albums and his work with Kanye West. Meanwhile, Wale’s first two official albums, Attention Deficit and Ambitious were amazing but still never received the accolades that they deserved (cue in Charles Okocha). Even the cohorts who he came up with early in the game, like J.cole and Big Sean, are considered to be on a higher level on most “Top 5” lists. However, let’s be clear, Wale, in my opinion, would out rap most of these artists but lacks creativity in terms of marketing, overall development, artwork, etc. which all play a major part in how people consume music today. This isn’t to say that my guy doesn’t have commercial hits, “Lotus Flower Bomb” peaked at No.38 on the Billboard Hot 100 and charted for 20 weeks, eventually going platinum and earning him a Grammy nomination. The Gifted debuted at No.1 in the country and featured “Bad” which also went platinum.
Fast forward to April 2017, Wale drops SHINE, and the world goes…crickets. Selling an underwhelming 28,000 copies in the first week, the album came and went. It was disappointing because SHINE actually had gems, from “Fashion Week” to “My Love,” both with the potential to be #1 hits across the boards–if they had been delivered by someone else. This album also showed an increased focus on his Nigerian roots, enlisting artists like Olamide, Wizkid, and Davido. So what exactly is the problem? Is Wale losing the people or are the people losing Wale?
From the onset of his career, Wale was introduced to the public with record label woes, from releasing dreaded Lady Gaga version of “Chillin”, the label under shipping Attention Deficit, and ultimately being dropped from Interscope. When he joined MMG he was back on the map and rising, only to be overshadowed by Rick Ross’ large belly, and his protégé, Meek Mill, by the time The Album about Nothing came out. From his famous call to the Complex office, his comments on Frank Ocean, the time he got into it with this chick, beefing with his label mate, Kid Cudi, and Kendrick?, he eventually got dropped from Atlantic as well. Let’s face it, he became a walking PR nightmare but to be fair, most Yoruba men are problematic, it’s in our blood *shrugs*.
His personality doesn’t align with fame as well as it does for others. He doesn’t have that “positive image” like Chance the Rapper, that “hood persona like” YG, or even that “socially conscious” rep like Lupe Fiasco. He never really had a label in hip-hop, he carved out his own, and to be honest, that’s exactly where he needs to stay. He can rap just as well as any of them, if not better, has multiple gold and platinum records, legendary verses, and actually rhymes about things with substance. But as I said, it’s not his fault. Atlantic just signed the yodeling Wal-Mart Kid (who managed to show up to perform at Coachella *side-eyes Wizkid*) and previously signed Bhad Bhabie. Is that even a place suitable for Wale at this point?
In this new generation, record labels are signing individuals with no innate musical ability, but have huge social media followings, and they create songs for them only to make money off them. As I said, it’s not really Wale’s fault. People are more interested in clout than to formulate new rhyme schemes. He’s been teasing that numerous record labels are ready to sign him but Wale, creatively, as an independent artist makes sense. (Note: there’s an Empire link in his Twitter bio so he may have inked a distribution deal with them.)
A now 33-year-old man with a daughter (shoutouts to Zyla), I anticipate he may soon be either running out of steam, or f***s to give, and I wouldn’t blame him. Ironically, with the recent EP’s he put out, Self-Promotion and It’s complicated, he’s showing signs of life. Even more so, he’s getting comfortable with his career and embracing that old chip on his shoulder that brought us Attention Deficit. His next studio album, however, needs to be a juggernaut. In my humble opinion, The songs like “Bad” or “Flotus Bomb” are great and would get radio spins, but we need him to rap…just RAP. “Salary Kaep” from the last EP is a perfect example of what I’m talking about. Or even that blackout verse from the extended version of “Groundhog Day“. Imagine an album with 14 of those types of tracks. There doesn’t need to be another overly conceptualized project like Album about Nothing, or even The Gifted. What we need is an album more closely to “I just want to rap” Wale, i.e. Back to the Feature. That mixtape featured verses from lyrical beasts such as Royce Da 5’9”, Joe Budden, Black Thought, K’naan, Talib Kweli, and that was back in 2009. If Wale could tap into that zone of “Just Rap” he could land on his feet better than ever.
“I wasn’t going for like mixtape of the year
Or like monumental mixtape of the moment
Like, you know what I’m sayin’
It was more so like, I just want to get my rapping on
And with ni**as want to get their rapping on
So let’s get our rapping on” – (wale – “um ricka“)
If his next album “flops”, we may never see the rhymer return to the mainstream, as most fickle fans are here today and gone tomorrow. His core fans, including myself, will always support but sometimes from an artist’s viewpoint, it’s not enough. Now that he’s technically independent and working more with his Blue Moon artists (we’re still waiting on Phil Ade’s project), I’m excited to see what comes out of the struggle.
Update: He signed with a joint venture with Warner Bros!
P.S. coming from the DMV myself, don’t think we forgot that Go-Go album you promised.
Uncle Folarin, we’re rooting for you.