Wale is somebody that I think many of us have begun to ignore. Jumping career tracks as often and as clumsily as he has done is dangerous maneuvering in hip-hop. It may seem fitting that Rick Ross, the head of Wale’s own MMG home, is so well known for a story of self-creation, going from being a PO to a fictionalized drug kingpin. Wale has taken a similar path with less dexterity, making the switch from high-minded conscious party rapper to money-and-hoes-obsessed yacht rapper without really committing very hard to his new self.
For one thing, a lot of what Wale seems to have been doing by signing to MMG seems to be negated by his own apologetics. One of his first forays into the world of trap, Waka Flocka Flame’s 2010 smash “No Hands” was labeled “The Guilty Pleasure” on his More About Nothing mixtape that same year, a really easy way to alienate both sides of this intended audience, low-browing the high-brow and high-browing the low-brow.
With this same attitude he approached his 2011 album Ambition, slathering populist musical styles, flows, and subjects with an aura of “classic” that the album just didn’t live up to musically. The relative lack of success that Ambition received luckily seems to have humbled Wale if only slightly. His new mixtape Folarin suffers from many of the same faults as his earlier work. There’s a track where he apologizes for using words like “bitch” and “n***a”, for one thing, and the whole tape has the general sound of the second half of a mid-to-late career Jay-Z album, all self-indulgent soulfulness. What Jay-Z has that Wale does not, however, is a flow and intonation that doesn’t sound like butter-less toasted Wonder bread. In other words, Wale’s rapping is as functional as ever and his voice is just as boring.
With that said, Folarin can show another side of Wale because he keeps the ego to a minimum, allowing himself to spread out a little more than usual and sink into a variety of ideas. Some work and some don’t. The Trinidad James-featuring “Flat Out” for one is backed by a blatant rip-off of Young Chop’s beat from Chief Keef’s “3hunna” and James mugs with the same flow and many of the same lyrics he used on his twitter-hit “All Gold Everything”. Try to avoid that one. Songs like “Skool Days”, “Street Runner”, and “Chun”, however, are alternatively fun and genuinely emotional tracks that showcase what Wale is actually good at: bleeding-heart, all-inclusive sentiments made for swaying lighters.