Summer releases are generally saved for big acts like Kanye and Jay-Z, so it’s nice to see Wale in the mix of big commercial artists getting big release dates. Thank goodness he lives up to the hype, otherwise there’s a chance he might have shuffled back into the mixtape circuit, where he seemed most comfortable.
Yet Wale’s confidence grows with his exposure, the former was already pretty high to begin with. The Gifted marks an important shift in style for Wale. Much like his fanbase, the songs on the album switch from commercial radio rap songs like “Clappers”, “Rotation” and “Bricks” and more traditional pieces of underground leaning songs like “Simple Man” and “Black Heroes”. However, the real importance of the album lies in the tracks that accomplish both sides of the genre, while encompassing even more within.
The second single off the album “LoveHate Thing” has received general acclaim, and this reviewer will do nothing but reinforce that. The song is a composition rather than your standard rap track. Sam Dew is the featured singer on the song, and he does a premium job of his best Raphael Saadiq-ish crooning. This song only furthers the album’s duality, with the chorus singing “Hold me tight/let me go. Heal my heart/hurt my soul. Build me up/break me down. Make me smile/make me frown.” For all of the fancy wording and high energy lines Wale has become known for, the ones that stick for me are lines like “I lost a lot of friends, and they ain’t even dead.” No wild flow, no crashing Best Kept Secret production to liven his lyrics, just an introspective thought.
On the other side of the album exists more Maybach-friendly tracks like “Clappers” featuring Nicki Minaj and Juicy J. An in your face club song, the reappearing lyrics are a demand to “bounce” over you guessed it, claps. You’ve got to admire a working formula. Get a hype beat with modern and simple production, get a few good features, and don’t suck. “Clappers” seems a likely single considering Wale’s label and the high profile names on the track, which make it all the better that they went with “LoveHate Thing” as the second single. The introspection on “Clappers” manifests itself in a more humorous, self-aware way. Wale raps over the dare-you-not-to-dance beat “Bounce, bounce, bounce, fool I put the city on/Bounce, bounce, bounce, fool then I put my ni**as on/Bounce, bounce, bounce fool I ain’t gotta say too much.”
Wale sounds most familiar over songs like “Golden Salvation (Jesus Piece)” which are the most reminiscent of the production from duo Best Kept Secret, who handled the beats on nearly every Wale project prior to this one. The wild crashing cymbals, heavy percussion, soft breaks to heighten the impact of the next verse, the gospel wails in the background, it’s all quite conventional in Wale’s book, which is maybe why The Gifted features a more varied list of producers (looking at the personnel list on the bottom of the album’s wiki page is exhausting).
Wale referred to “LoveHate Thing” as ‘new black soul.’ While that title certainly fits that song, it reappears in the Cee-Lo-featured “Gullible”,. Horns all up in the mix! A sped up Al Green type drum beat, friendly wah guitar and a catchy hook. It’s all good, but it’s nothing to write home about.
On the album’s last lines before the outro on the song “Black Heroes” are delivered over lingering guitar in spoken word poetry style: “If I ever rush more music out to you then know that I’m overworking myself cuz my heart and mind into it. Ain’t been a black hero since Robert Townsend, so for meeting your man I hope you found something profound and enough to expand on before the sound falters.”
Lyrically, Wale is profound. While the album may confuse at points because of the variety and Wale’s focus on duality, I’d rather have some focus issues than a boring one-sided album. He has a way with words most rappers can only fantasize about and has only recently found the right way to get those words properly out to the public. The Gifted is certainly a true title for this release, and contrary to the MC’s own recurring themes borrowed from Seinfeld, this album is much more than nothing.