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.
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Tagged Ambition, Attention Deficit, best albums of 2019, DMV, Maybach Music, MMG, Ranked Discography, Shine, The Album About Nothing, The Gifted, Wale, Wow...That's Crazy
Mixtape Review-Meekend Music by Meek Mill
The notion that your diss song is better so you kill your opponent’s careers is as real as Santa. Santa is grounded in a real factual dude from who cares how long ago who did stuff for his neighborhood but that dude is gone. The notion that Drake made a good song out of his response to Meek’s angry twitter feed and now Meek is over… is hilarious. That is probably how it worked for Busy Bee and Kool Moe Dee but let’s not pretend this hip hop is that hip hop. In this hip hop world what happened to Meek was great.
My proof is Meekend Music, the three song EP he dropped with two guests (A$AP Ferg & Young Thug). It showcases perfectly the two rules in any great Meek Mill release.
- The production needs to be weird. It’s not that Meek gets bored if the production is boring, normal Meek is good but just listen to the first song Lay. Honorable C-Note gives a trap beat pumped up by horns, with a marching band feeling and Meek delivers the best bars he has in years. The weirder the beat is (the more forward momentum it carries) the more snarling Meek gets and snarling is exactly who he really is. This is why it makes sense for A$AP Ferg to pop in; Ferg owns his gross tough guy chic and in order for Meek to achieve his best possible outcome he will need to do similar. The difference between the two is that Meek is great at fast flowing over beats that race against him. He loves to be pushed. Backboard puts him next to Young Thug and it makes more sense than most would think because while Meek has Philly tough as nails rap roots he’s also secretly weird and it is a key part of what makes him special.
- Too much Meek Mill is not good. If I had my way all his projects would be ten songs or less. On Meekend Music he doesn’t yell nearly as much as he has in the past(the beef and break up with Nicki seem to have focused him in on lyricism) but he has been guilty of yelling in place of real content before. Instead we get Left Hollywood where he reaffirms his identity and every emphasized second counts. Even when he isn’t shouting Meek has a tough time with album transitions and showcasing different dimensions on the journey of the listener. He needs to blast off and leave you wide eyed wanting more which is what Meekend Music is all about.
I hope he gets meaner and closer to his real on court personality. In basketball terms he is an Isiah Thomas, a smiling prince who is meaner than his competition. He cannot look to his left or right and cheat off his peers for answers. He is not in Drake’s lane he is in Raekwon’s lane. He has all the components to do great things and all this beefing did was stoke the drive. Now he just needs the right setting.
Stream or download Meekend Music below:
Mixtape Review-Summer on Sunset by Wale
The tastemakers (a relatively small group of middle aged white dudes) decided a long time ago to wash their hands of Wale. Post-backpacker he embraced more of the uncomfortable/odd/off-putting elements of himself. Going to Maybach Music allowed him to make weird (maybe weird isn’t strong enough) sex jokes and tie his brags into his artistic determination in a way that was more honest but uncomfortable for those who listened to his Mixtape About Nothing and wanted to freeze him in that space.
I only actually started liking Wale after MMG. He seemed to start owning himself in a more realistic way. It always appeared that Attention Deficit Wale wasn’t real but some leftover patched together Rawkus Records take on Gil-Scott Heron. His new mixtape Summer on Sunset showcases everything I love about the evolution of Wale. When a rapper makes a mixtape embracing the west coast sound it usually turns out pretty forgettable. You can sound very silly faking the funk on a faux-Mustard beat doing your version of a YG flow. It helps that this long mixtape has a narrative arc about him moving to LA that fits the sound. Wale manages a busload of different producers over seventeen tracks without selling himself short at all; add to that, the other busload of important guest rappers/singers and it’s a feat that Summer on Sunset doesn’t sound like a compilation. Lyrically the sharpest Wale will always be Ambition but flow and melody-wise it’s hard to expect more than he provides on Summer on Sunset. From the light finger snap cooing flow of Ms. Moon to (my favorite moment of the project) the triumphant sing along Its Too Late produced by Go Griz.
The easiest way to defend Wale as an artist is to say he’s more of an honest commodity than most. On the gorgeous G-funk smash Gangsta Boogie he brings Daz & Kurupt who just DOGG POUND the stuffing out of the song like they came from 1995. Amidst all this Wale keeps his head. He doesn’t make laughable threats, instead lacing a chorus where he admits he’s not gangster at all even rapping “not a gangsta really, never claimed it though, with all that money and fame why they so gangsta for?!” it’s an admission that all these super tough hardcore rappers you think are so authentic are filthy rich with accountants and personal assistants. They are powerful business people with gangster outfits on and you(the audience) can’t tell the difference. Wale incites anger because he’s dressed as he is, smug and successful, but that shouldn’t stop us from acknowledging his talent.
Even when Wale’s content isn’t deep or impressive he has such an impressive mastery over tone and flow that you can just enjoy Day By The Pool on the power of his delivery and the urgency of Squat AC Chann3l & Soufwest’s trampling beat. He’s gotten better at taking ownership over his hooks, and taking his singing seriously. As vapid as his content can seem, real emotion underpins a lot of these stories (see: Drunk & Conceited where he is bragging about dirty sex but so pathetic that he is kicked out by an Uber driver for being annoyingly hammered. It sounds like a brag until you realize it plays as real tragedy.) Summer on Sunset breezes by, full of easy listens bay area ratchet like Thought It featuring Joe Moses and Ty Dolla Sign over DJ Mustard; it is simply a super fun single. Publishing Checks is a darker turn into harder spitting which leaves you wondering if he could carry a full album of those kind of songs (I think he would do quite well). As not-givin-an-F as Publishing Checks is Paparazzi is a beautiful stroll where the melody carries but the lines stand out, real discussion on relationships and celebrity peek through. He even manages to match weird with Cam’ron, which is an impressive feat, by claiming on Bitches Like You to have “the lexicon of about eleven lucky leprechauns,” now try to forget that phrase.
With most mixtapes leading up to albums (working on an album called S.H.I.N.E.) we assume these are left overs. If Summer on Sunset is that album is going to be awesome! If they aren’t and he patched together seventeen songs on the side while working on his album…the result is quite impressive(and the album could be more so). Either way, I can’t tell you that Pitchfork will give him higher than a six on this next album BUT I’m anticipating something I will love.
Stream or download Summer on Sunset below:
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Tagged AC Chann3l, DJ Mustard, Dogg Pound, Go Griz, Joe Moses, Maybach Music, Mixtape About Nothing, mixtape review, MMG, Soufwest, Ty Dolla Sign, Wale
Mixtape Review-Black Dollar by Rick Ross
Rick Ross has been artistically splitting in half recently. The dirty Miami bass of Hood Billionaire v. the wordy luxury of God Forgives, I Don’t. The smooth J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League Yacht Club sound of Deeper Than Rap v. the deep growling muscle of Lex Luger’s production on The Albert Anastasia Ep. The problem is not his capability to do both but the distance between the two versions of Ross. His new mixtape Black Dollar (it’s really a free album) answers the million dollar question: how do you bring it all together and make any sense out of the result?
J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League definitely leaves an imprint on Black Dollar they heighten rather than smooth out all the rough edges. The production on the first song Foreclosures is soulful to a ghostly extent that allows Ross to dig into the somber complexity of financial irresponsibility and the chaos that new money brings to the ecosystem around it. He doesn’t just talk about label deals and recouping he goes bigger “Young N’s time to act your wage! Buying belts you seen on other N’s waist. Ho’s F’ing for photos they want to post online, whole time shorty knowin’ I’m the gold mine.” The most J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League moment is without a doubt Icon featuring Anthony Hamilton which leverages Hamilton’s soulful voice against their plush landscape. The light piano keys might lead you to think this is a gentle celebratory song if not for Ross ceaselessly spitting fiery decadent gangsta brags.
Jay-z isn’t just directly mentioned on several occasions but the collaboration between Ross and Meek (World’s Finest) comes on a beat that flips the Reasonable Doubt beat Brooklyn’s Finest. Black Dollar as a whole has a jazzy/soulful production feel clearly derived from Jay’s Blueprint. He wanted to take the air out of that luxury all-white-on-a-boat music and do more than growl over dirty beats. The newer streamlined middle ground gives room for our narrator to just blow. His verses are long and breezy, words just roll into each other easily and we go from crack brags to restauranteur brags feeling the link.
Bill Gates is a weird beat with an odd chunky rhythm that not everyone could manage. It’s indicative of the lyrical development of Rick Ross. He reads Robert Greene books, balances his accounts, and writes verses. Knights of The Templar is creepy as heck partially because it develops out of a Scarface soundtrack sample but also due to how easily Ross can connect telling his story on Oprah to murder and then to Jake The Snake Roberts.
If anything feels out of place, for me, it’s Money & The Powder which is a thick slow thump through a chorus that gets repeated far too often. It’s not a bad song it just doesn’t fit amongst the finest content present elsewhere. By contrast, Drive a Nigga Crazy is by far my favorite song on the mixtape and one of my favorite songs this year. The strings attack your ears and the beat backs it up. Ross sounds at his most confident and his flow is straight up hypnosis
The only features on Black Dollar are people Ross loves to be on songs with: Meek Mill, Wale, Future, The Dream, Anthony Hamilton, Gucci Mane who has the best guest verse, and August Alsina). However you feel about the bawse the rap world is a far more interesting place with Rick Ross, Young Jeezy, and Gucci Mane at their best. They provide motivation for the hard heads; the people who don’t care how good Drake is, dudes who want prison weight lifting music or young men huddled in smoke boxed vehicles getting motivated. Sure the streets need Rick Ross but not just the streets you’re thinking of. Rick Ross’s sonic universe is Game of Thrones at this point; even if you don’t watch you HAVE to know what’s going on.
stream or download Black Dollar below:
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Tagged 2015 albums, 2015 mixtapes, Anthony Hamilton, Black Dollar, Gucci Mane, J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League, Jay-Z, Lex Luger, luxury, Maybach Music, Meek Mill, MMG, Reasonable Doubt, Rick Ross, the two rick ross's, v. hood, Young Jeezy
Song of The Year-The White Shoes by Wale
Not to get super militant on anyone but can you imagine a world where Wale is white and still as talented as he is? Can you imagine the exposure/built in audience he would have to choose from? Instead Wale is not white and not slam poetry enough for most critics who call him out for being smarmy and making irritating jokes (that they would think pretty clever if the right rapper said them). What’s lost in all this is how good Wale is; ever since he went to MMG he has been the most consistent of the crew (outside of the bawse). He takes every verse seriously and does as much work with subjects closer to his heart as jokes (maybe more) but what separates him is he knows how to organize an album better than his co-workers.
His new album The Album About Nothing is cleverly organized and a good listen. He sits down with Seinfeld for a conversation about life and success, instead of blowing that audio on an intro or interludes; pieces are broken off and give the songs their heart. It grounds the album in a simple conversation between someone who not only got all the success he ever imagined but never let it lead him around and someone newer still figuring out how to deal with random NBA commentators clowning him for no reason.
In an interview about the album Seinfeld said Wale has a “hypnotic quality to his voice” and this song is a pretty good example of that. You can feel Wale searching for Seinfeld’s famous grounded composure while singing the chorus. Wale wasn’t really put here to make sensitive backpacker tracks, his anthems are better the bigger they get; the voices coming together with him as he sings the chorus and the drums charging in all suits the grand scale he wants to achieve. The Album About Nothing is not as good as Wale’s best album Ambition, but that’s a high bar. It’s still a lot of fun and carries with it a lot of heart. In a year full of important releases don’t miss what Wale’s been trying to put together for years; an album well worth the wait.
Mixtape Review-Zero Fucks Given by Emilio Rojas
The first song of every single Emilio Rojas project is absolute fire. He starts off things the way Ice Cube used too with that “EVERYBODY MAKE WAY I AM ABOUT TO DOMINATE” song. He does it yet again on his new mixtape Zero Fucks Given “Nobody help we did this on our Fing own. All these other cats that’s out just a bunch of Fing clones. They don’t even dress themselves a stylist pull they clothes, somebody making them fly they like a bunch of Fing drones (ZFG Intro).” The difference this time is that the rest of it holds that sense of urgency.
In the past his mixtapes lost steam and digressed into club songs about how girls can’t get enough of Emilio Rojas. I’ll give every mixtape allowance for at least one of these songs. The road must be a lonely place and songs about how delightful ladies find you can ensure companionship on those lonesome stops along the way. I don’t need 7 of them. On Zero Fucks Given those songs are replaced with laser focused intelligence. This is evident from the first track onward “167 baby I got the whole block with me! I’m where the poverty created an economy, everyone selling souls now the devil on a shopping spree (Trouble)!”
Rojas has a flow that craves the spotlight. It can speedbag and dazzle or stamp down on the right line so no one misses it. Even with Nore growling and spitting a great verse Rojas stands center stage on Trouble. I had hoped we would get more work like Zero Fucks Given when I heard he got signed to Maybach Music. MMG seems to be a label full of artists who are almost hitting their potential and this mixtape feels like Rojas as Popeye taking the spinach (does anyone even get that reference? I’m old.)
Zero Fucks Given is noticeably and stylistically darker than previous works. I’m thinking about the church bells and ghoul voice in the background repeating the song title 167. Or the interlude at the end where a car accident hits a woman and Rojas urgently requests no one move her. To his credit Emilio never pushes a tough guy angle. He presents himself as slick, intelligent, and unrelenting while admitting he didn’t have to sell drugs (rather than acting as if he did). The ferocious bars in the project seem to carry the weight of his hopes for his community without directly overstating them. He talks angrily about kids ignoring educational goals and girls not being raised to pursue sensible outcomes. The tone of his voice makes you believe none of his concerns are general, the names and faces are in his head as he spits (listen to track 8 Dead Presidents for an example). This is the lean (11 tracks) brazen Rojas I can wave like a flag in front of kids who are looking for something new and ill. The happy go lucky king of the club song has been replaced by the world weary smh of Bitch is Crazy (Joe Budden heard the song title and was like YES I WILL THROW A VERSE ON THAT) and clear headed confessional The Only One. He never loses track of himself or takes a detour or turns confession into self-pity; all the way to the warm celebratory last track (Dynasty) this is the Emilio Rojas I wanted. The one I talked about to anyone who listened; standing under the stars on my house phone saying “If only all the songs could be like the first one!” way too loud.
Stream or Download Zero Fucks Given below:
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Tagged datpiff, Dead Presidents, Emilio Rojas, hip hop, Ice Cube, Joe Budden, Joe Buden, Maybach Music, Mixtape, mixtape reviews, Noreaga, speedbag flow, Zero Fucks Given
Song Review-How U Feel by Fat Trel produced by Harry Fraud
Trel’s new mixtape Gleesh feels like the proving ground for the number one Maybach Music question: does the luxuriously clean production style of the label fit the gritty goon content of the roster? Fat Trel is full of violent bluster with a magnificent evil frog monster voice to boot and feels comfortable over dark stabbing Gucci Mane style production but Maybach has a signature sound. Its radio friendly and refined and sometimes doesn’t make sense for the artist. Some songs don’t seem to work on Gleesh but the most interesting ones seem to provide enough balance for an answer. This is the best example.
Harry Fraud finds the perfect equilibrium between echoing club friendly bass with gentle guitar and a melodic spook that lets Trel lead with his determination and sneer. Lyrically Trel never lets you get comfortable, contradicting every image of attractive women showing him attention with bad neighborhoods and violence. If you think he’s thin in terms of content I can’t really argue but with the delivery and voice I could listen to this dude rap the phone book. When you couple that with one of the most impressive Harry Fraud beats (how consistent is Harry Fraud? I’ve heard the criticism that he only makes one kind of beat but DJ Mustard does the same thing and we love him…Fraud is one of those consistent dudes who seems to make everyone’s project sound better) in a while its hard to beat that for a stand out song.