Washington, D.C. rapper goes for gloss on his sophomore album.
Marcus J. Moore 2011
Two years ago, Wale was the saviour of Washington, D.C. hip hop, the golden child who would rescue the aspiring masses from its unrelenting despair and wash away all those years of unrealised potential. Certainly, a few local MCs had made a decent living from rap music, but they didn’t have an appeal broad enough to put the region on a national map. Wale, with his clever wordplay, cool D.C. twang and international co-sign from Mark Ronson, seemed destined for the universal prestige that somehow eluded his predecessors. Then he released his debut album, Attention Deficit, a disappointing effort that left many to wonder if D.C. would ever get its mainstream recognition. In theory, Wale’s commercial success could mean more attention for the entire scene.
Soon after, Wale appeared to buckle under the pressure, chastising his "haters" on Twitter, wallowing in self-pity throughout his subsequent mixtape and feuding very publicly with rapper Kid Cudi. Perhaps sidestepping the controversy, Wale then signed with Rick Ross’ Maybach Music Group and embraced a glossy aesthetic of fast cars, money stacks and groupies. That is the downfall of Ambition, an album drowning in lazy RnB haze and confined by overwhelming arrogance. While Wale has an impressive work ethic, he spends the bulk of Ambition reminding you of such, filling the space with egotistical musings that fail to connect with the common man. Clearly, Wale has ascended to a new tax bracket since his debut album, or at least that’s the image he wants to portray.
Ultimately, the witty lyricism of Wale’s early material is too few and far between, as this set leans heavily on misogynistic themes and self-centred musings. When he focuses on rhymes, though, the results are decent. Legendary, with its methodical pace, finds the MC assessing his stature. "I’m sorta like Socrates in a Prada tee," he raps; "You can’t kick it, your pockets thinner than soccer tees." On D.C. or Nothing, he addresses gentrification, the AIDS epidemic and homicide within the nation’s capital.
But elsewhere, the results are downright baffling. Slight Work, featuring Big Sean, is a bubblegum pop track of drum taps and looped police sirens. White Linen, with Ne-Yo, feels more like throwback easy listening than hip hop. Overall, Wale’s professional work ethic is commendable, but it doesn’t translate to this new album. While it’s great to be ambitious, it’s also great to be humble. Just a little bit.