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by Marcus K. Dowling


“You’re getting a lil’ sloppy with your cockiness ain’t ya?
A little arrogant with all your comparisons…”

– Kanye West, “My Way”

Personally, I believe that the better route would have been for Wale to silently accept his fate, then show and prove to Complex Magazine why he should be considered and emcee with one of the best 50 albums of the year. However, in “turning up” on the phone like a second-rate Kanye West (meaning without the gratuitous fashion and one-percenter cultural allusions) Wale saw himself as being more than what he is, and likely did himself more harm than good as a rising rap star. What is Wale, then? As much as he would probably bristle at the notion, he’s a rapper from the unproven, non-industry city of Washington, DC, arguably using cheap pandering and gimmicks to “get on” as a pop star. In what could be seen as one of the first public displays of his honest soul in quite some time being an ad hominem attack of a Complex Magazine writer, he failed at becoming greater than what he may actually only be, a clueless asshole from the DMV.

The Gifted was Wale’s 2013 album release, and finally found the rapper with a first-week sales number one on the Billboard charts. However, unlike Kanye West’s Yeezus (which sold 327,000 copies in its first week), Wale’s fourth studio album sold 158,000 copies. In a market where nothing sells – but wherein Beyonce selling 617,000 copies of her latest album in three days proves that loyal fans are willing to spend money for even the perception of quality work – Wale hit number one, but certainly not with the same impact as those that he passionately believes that he shares a level of acclaim and respect.
Wale had a solid year as a rapper. The Gifted‘s two best radio singles, (“Bad” and “Love Hate Thing”) respectively represent arguably one of the year’s overall best and underrated singles. For successfully evolving from Attention:Deficit to this point, Wale should be applauded. However, insofar as him having a top 50 album of 2013, I can understand an editor or writer taking a closer look at Wale’s success and being less than impressed.
2013 was a year defined by now maturing once blog-hot mixtape rappers resorting to all manner of what could be construed as cheap gimmicks to gain a greater foothold as artists. At least Wale wasn’t J. Cole, who rapped about his “crooked smile” with TLC on the hook, basically re-creating “Unpretty” from the male perspective. Even worse, he could’ve been J. Cole defiling rap’s entirehistory as an art form wherein the best performers display extreme confidence by “letting Nas down.” Comparatively, Wale’s not nearly as bad, making what could be described as lightweight rap buoyed by heavily soulful hooks. Sadly, there’s nothing incredible to see there. There’s nothing that hasn’t been done before and nothing that someone else hasn’t done better before him, too.
As awesome as “Love Hate Thing” (or even better as an example, Wale’s duet with Miguel for “Lotus Flower Bomb”) is for instance, it follows the same formula that, say, Ill Al Skratch followed back in 1994 when they absolutely, positively needed another hit. Ill All Skratch were a Brooklyn-based duo that had initial radio success with a thumping debut single,“Where My Homiez?” Instead of following up with another party-starter, the duo teamed with then-star R & B vocalist Brian McKnight for “I’ll Take Her.” The single hit #62 on the Billboard Top 100 and #5 on the Billboard rap charts. However, by the turn of the 21st century, the duo had disappeared from the mainstream scene.
Wale’s not disappearing anytime soon, but it is certainly time for him to at least try to become memorable. Being an artist just making hits was enough for urban artists one or two generations ago because the idea of a thing called “urban music” was so uncharted. Now, the market has become over-saturated and paths for success are clearly delineated. However where an artist like Wale differs from an artist like Juicy J (who was mentioned in the Complex call) is that whereas Juicy J stays trippy in a lane where few have walked, Wale occupies one of the most traveled lanes in the history of modern urban pop music.
What people still remember about Wale in a positive and iconic manner is his legendary run of top-tier mixtapes. They appeared to showcase a rising artist who was uniquely frank and entertaining, and ultimately worthy of support. Maybe its time for Wale to make a brief departure from worrying about cheap gimmicks and concentrate on amazing ones instead. Scheduled for the DC-area native in 2014 is the release of An Album About Nothing, an extension of his popular 2009 mixtape concept blending clips from Seinfeld with hip-hop culture. Jerry Seinfeld himself has been called in for an appearance on the project, and if we wanted to hear something close to impassioned honesty from Wale (that doesn’t involve “turning up”), it’ll likely be on this project.
Just as Kanye West raps on “My Way,” Wale certainly proved himself to be “sloppy with his cockiness” and “arrogant [with his] comparisons.” At present, Wale is just another talented rapper making radio fodder. As compared to Juicy J, Kanye West, or anyone else, he has some significant ground to cover to achieve a similar level of success. Wale is ultimately best when seen as a rising rapper from a wildly developing city who has a story to tell. In becoming smart, safe and spectacular, he could do wonders for changing the perception of himself, his hometown and the appearance of respect and sustained renown for both his and our futures.