Ranked Discography: Wale (album) edition
I saw Wale live in Boston in 2008 as the opener in a Rock The Bells concert that changed my wife’s relationship to hip hop forever. He did his song Nike Boots and explained the meaning of it before he performed it. The crowd was doing the festival opener thing, ‘It’s a long show and I don’t know this dude so I’m stocking up on drinks/food’. I was looking around as he performed saying “Why don’t they know how great this song is?!” Wale didn’t get sour or go half steam he was still great but that was the first time I thought…the crowd is taking him for granted. It’s become a recurring theme.
He dropped a new album on 10/11/2019 called Wow…That’s Crazy and it is EASILY the second best album he’s ever made. Doing a career breakdown of the DMV god is not easy since he is a pop rap heavyweight as well as a mixtape hall of famer. For now, I would like to give an updated ranking of his proper albums.
- Ambition (released 11/01/2011)-One of the five most authentically urgent hip hop albums I’ve heard in the last twenty years. By authentic it needs to be said that Wale is not a fake tough guy. Ambition is about focus, being locked in and refusing failure but he doesn’t pretend murder or drug deal in order to do it. As he says in Double M Genius “The remedy is get your hustle on.” Wow…That’s Crazy is about finding comfort within yourself and ,on the other end of that, joy. Ambition is gritted teeth and tense muscles bubbling over with the burning passion to be the literal best. Miami Nights is still a fun song about living luxurious and Lotus Flower Bomb is every inch the radio hit you remember but every other song flexes a relentless drive for achievement. My favorite lyrical achievement of his career is every word of the song Legendary. “It’s something to be great. It’s nothing to be famous.” “My only fear is mediocrity.” It is a song (and by extent an album) of flow pushed to the limit, bars that honestly admit he has growth to do and seeks nothing else but to do it. “This is anti-Mark McGwire: it takes patience for power.” It would take a lot for Wale to push beyond Ambition but the wildest thing about Wale is you can never find his ceiling, so it could happen.
- Wow…That’s Crazy(released 10/11/2019)-I love this album as much as I hate the title. It distills all of the important themes of Wale’s albums and presents them thoughtfully while having fun. On his first album he had songs like Shades about beautiful black women on Wow…That’s Crazy he makes BGM and turns his love into an anthem. He still says devastating things like “Showbusiness will never love you the way you love it (Sue Me).” Which point to the frustration we know he’s been through but he navigates the content with a confident looseness and dexterity. The features are bonkers from Bryson Tiller, Kelly Price, Ari Lennox, Boogie, Meek Mill, Jacquees, Megan Thee Stallion, 6lack, Jeremih. It is the greatest collection of R & B features on a 2019 rap album bar none. The album is about letting go of the anxiety related to perception of him. That balloon on the cover has crazy written on it and he’s watching float away. Not that he’s finally found a way to feel fulfilled as a fly, mentally ill, smacktalker but he’s closer than he’s ever been and his craft is on another level.
- The Album About Nothing(released 03/25/2015)-Wale is a brilliant dude. Like every one of those I’ve known his thoughts easily scatter. It’s no accident his top three albums all express a definite composed theme. They can be considered concept albums if you want. It’s a track for his train of thought to ride on that pulls together all the threads of what he wants to discuss and Seinfeld is a wonderful mechanism for that (Best SZA feature of her career on The Need To Know).
- The Gifted(released 06/25/2013)-Pitchfork gave this a 5.1, Spin a 6. We were all confused. We heard The Dap-Kings mentioned and thought live instrumentation would give birth to a catchy loving soul-rap album. If you let go of all that and listen on the albums own terms it’s very good. Wale smashes a top notch Just Blaze beat on 88. Drops a mean trap paced collab with Wiz and 2 Chainz (Rotation). As a Wale album it’s very well organized and hits that nice range from pop hits (Bad remix or regular with Rihanna or Tiara Thomas) to nasty rap club jam (Clappers with Nicki Minaj & Juicy J). We all thought he was going to do a John Legend with The Roots type thing but that wouldn’t have made any sense for his skill set.
- Shine(released 04/28/2017)-I was very down on Shine when it came out. Upon relisten…some good stuff on there. Scarface Rozay Gotti is hardcore headnod music, Mathematics is ill, Running Back with Wayne is fire. The problem: the music isn’t unified enough within structure that allows it to become a single story. Fashion Week and Fish N Grits just don’t belong on the same album together.
- Attention Deficit(released 11/07/2009)-This one holds a special place for some people and I want to respect that. This is not who Wale was meant to be. Attention Deficit is who the underground ,he had trafficked in to that point, wanted him to be. Too many jazzy boom bap beats that just aren’t enough. Wale was meant for pop rap chart stardom. The backpack sound of Mama Told Me or Contemplate is not what he isn’t his canvas. He stretched into trap, African musical influences, MMG luxury rap, R & B and it jarred the audience that loves this album. Every artists dream is to break through their high points so that their best work is their new work. Wale’s growth has come in Savage strides that are not always easy to keep up with (See The Gifted). If Attention Deficit is your favorite because of where you were in your life when you heard it- hold that and enjoy it. If we are being clinical- he outgrew this one.
My wife found out I had been living in Wale’s discography to research this piece and remarked “I didn’t know you liked Wale…like THAT.” Before he dropped Wow…That’s Crazy I may not have known how dedicated to his development I’ve been over the past eleven years. I really believe the longer his career goes the more history will vindicate him. He’s shown a clear desire to sharpen his skills through hard work and his skills are profound at this point.