Wale "The Gifted" Album Review
Though it dropped on June 25th, seemingly in an effort to duck the competitive hoopla, The Gifted is a lush, polished, and flawed work that proves Wale can sound good even when he doesn’t and that he may very well fulfill his prophecy of greatness someday soon. Kidz ‘R Evil writer/DMV native son CRASHprez weighs in on the ups-and-downs of Wale’s new effort and how they serve him going forward in a backdrop of uncertainty.
Mr. Folarin still cannot stay the fuck away from Twitter. He still rolls with Tre from UCB, which is pretty damn awesome with me being from PG County like him. And the delusions of grandeur slowly pervading his public persona, blended with the persistence of hate from his hometown and sectors of the rap world, fuel his third mainstream effort. After being undershipped and underpromoted for his solid Interscope debut Attention Deficit, it seemed as though the world cried turncoat upon Wale’s signing to the “Untouchable Maybach Empire”. And despite the high sales behind Ambition, the mixed reviews had people questioning Wale’s path and longevity in the mainstream. He is perpetually caught in the headlights of being D.C.’s champion who still hasn’t held the Lombardi. With a chip on the proverbial dread, Folarin’s hunger is evident and seasoned on The Gifted; his desire to stand upon the pantheon of the greatest pushes him to question himself and the rest of the world. The whole statue cover/promotional aesthetic doesn't help him in the corny department, though.
The high point of this album was the breathtaking soul assembled for Wale’s digressions. There is a lot less trap to go around and there is the right mix of big names and hometown talent that continues to showcase Wale’s ability to cherry-pick the right people to fulfill his vision.
Wale has left the open mic for the large majority of this album. Not only that, but his conceptual nature shines through much more vibrantly as well on records like “LoveHate Thing” and “Golden Salvation (Jesus Piece)”. Thanks to the infectious haze of summertime hit “Bad”, it is also undeniable that Wale can write a radio hit, which was always a given for better or worse. There is a cast of usual suspects on here: Rick Ross & Meek Mill, 2 Chainz, Wiz Khalifa, Rihanna, Juicy J, and Nicki Minaj all show up more towards the latter half of the LP. There are also some cool ones, like Cee-Lo Green saving the song “Gullible” and Yo Gotti flexing a memory on “Bricks”. Even Seinfield shows back up for 30 seconds. Wale’s substance is really well-executed when it’s focused, but when he raps shit like “I fucked the game and came out a gold rapper” with enough consistency to be noticeable, it’s no wonder why listeners use their oversight of his true talent. At this stage, Wale is seesawing on the brink of being really great and being really good at being average, and the efforts as of late still aren’t reinforcing his pedestal. He recalls “being potent in ‘06”, but I haven’t heard that potency in full volume since a time I can’t remember anymore.
The high point of this album was the breathtaking soul assembled for Wale’s digressions. There is a lot less trap to go around and there is the right mix of big names and hometown talent that continues to showcase Wale’s ability to cherry-pick the right people to fulfill his vision. As he did so for the voices, the list of producers on here is equally extensive. Appearances by Sean C & LV, Just Blaze, Travi$ Scott, Stokley Williams, Tone P, No Credit, Sam Dew, Mark Henry, Lee Major and Folarin himself maintain an undeniable check-and-balance that keeps cohesion for when the soul takes darker turns into pockets of EDM, go-go, and even boom-bap without sounding scatterbrained.
The first half of The Gifted does a great job at establishing Wale’s deconstructive tangent of himself. More specifically, the first 5 songs of substance and exploration had me elated to the point that I thought this album was going to tread on being really great, and even up for the “best of 2013” discussion. Alas (excluding “Clappers”), that dreaded middle section brought subpar records that had potential to be on-par with the first third and a lot of radio foraging all for naught. By the time we hit the god-awful Rihanna substitution on the “Bad” remix and the CuDi choral impersonation on the god-awful “Rotation”, Wale’s momentum has drowned in a pool of mumbo sauce and loose weave from LIV Nightclub last Sunday. The last 3 tracks attempt to fix this derailment, and with a bit of success as a few soulful closers pinch hit to end on a good note. The Gifted flows well through this entire rollercoaster, but a retrospective look may sadden the listener at what this album could have been if it stayed the course without too many indulgences and diversions.
As I mentioned the headlights Wale is caught in, picture that moment happening at a fork in the road. Better yet, two trains on the Metro if you can. (My regional is way too exposed at this point.) The left side of the platform is his shuttle to becoming the true “gifted” he wants to become; a beacon of progress, a savior from a culture of disposable music and values (i.e. that first third and the end). The right side of the platform will take him to the party out the trap where there are sure to be clappers, well-placed Ciroc, and Fat Trel’s nipples basking in the breeze (that middle section) Wale has proven he will be fine no matter which train he chooses to be on. In fact, we should not ask him to choose because different trains are for different times. Wale still has time to find the balance he needs, and has acknowledged this. On The Gifted, there is plenty of the left side to ease the doubts away, and a little right side for our indulgence, but neither feels comfortable enough yet.
Wale sounds authentic to his DC-isms, makes a good effort at not being preachy, and still sounds as hungry as 100 Miles and Running but with the gruff of a veteran who is still out for championships. Tweet what thou wilt about it, but Wale can deliver the most insightful and corniest lines of his catalog with a unique vocal quality and unflinching self-conviction to match it. His struggles with going for gold parallel the way RGIII didn’t slide or run out of bounds his first season with the Redskins. But no matter what he says or when, you will know it is Wale and exactly what he meant when he said it.