Last week, Wale joined DJ Akademiks and Joe Budden on their show on Complex “Everyday Struggle” where they discussed his album sales for his latest album SHINE, and needless to say, it was quite a debate.
Wale has been a constant conversation piece amongst the two and the entire Hip-Hop community upon the release of his latest SHINE album. As it’s been a few weeks since it’s been dropped. I personally assumed it was highly anticipated but unfortunately only sold a bit fewer than 30,000 copies in its first week.
Like his contemporaries such as Kid Cudi, J.Cole, Big Sean, Wiz Khalifa and Drake who all entered the game at the peak of what many will refer to as the “blog Era,” a particular time in hip-hop when the birth and growth popularity of the iPhone slowly diminished the “ring tone era” leading to social media platforms becoming the primary way to receive our new music and news.
As many new and small publications began to catch on quick and dominate our music news, print publications such as The Source, XXL, and Pitchfork began to shift their focus from print to delivering all news on digital platforms. At this time, Wale was critically acclaimed for his strong array of mixtapes giving way to his major label debut that released under Atlantic.
Wale’s introductory album ‘Attention Deficit’ was released in 2009. Many fans who gravitated towards Wale from his mixtapes believed this release was a bit of a disappointment and Wale agreed. Originally making records that sonically represented the Go-Go sound of D.C., Wale was also delivering songs with an intricate sensibility that was unfamiliar at the time; leaving him to feel completely misunderstood by a label that put a young Lady Gaga on his first single, seemingly more concerned with catching the next ringtone than trying to make a record completely representing the essence of what Wale was about.
Luckily during this time, if an artist was at a major label that did not completely understand the artist vision, mixtapes allowed them full creative control and were just as, if not more listened to than albums were. Late summer of 2010, Wale released what is my personal favorite mixtape from him, the Mixtape About Nothing. The project propelled his popularity and he even more crystallized his Go-Go sound, intentionally clumsy rhyme style, and Seinfeld themed concepts.
Drake had already propelled to the top of the hip-hop world by then with an ignorable debut; Kid Cudi released two albums that were critically acclaimed while many others accredited Kanye’s 808’s & Heartbreak to his accolades as well. Big Sean, although still awaiting his massive hits was under the wing of Kanye West too but was and J.Cole was attempting to fill the shoes of his boss who happened to be the greatest rapper of all time (Jay Z).
Wale’s early buzz made him by far the most important rapper out of the D.M.V. area in years. At the same time Rick Ross had transcended his career from capitalizing on his sound and marketing appeal and was big enough to land a label deal through Atlantic Records as well; quickly grabbing Wale and Meek Mill, who had built his reputation on the East coast through years of YouTube battles and regionally acclaimed mixtapes.
At first, Ricky Rozay’s assembled team; Maybach Music Group didn’t only seem to be a force to be reckoned with but even lived up to the name “The Untouchable Empire”. With Rozay making the genre of Luxury Rap his own, Meek controlling the streets and Wale catering to the fans that would be labeled as backpackers, MMG offered a particular dynamic that was never displayed this way in Hip Hop.
At first, Wale and MMG seemed to be a compatible match; although receiving backlash for creating records that were subpar with trendy sounds of 2011, he proved to his core with his sophomore effort ‘Ambition’ that he did not nearly lose sight of the qualities, sounds and concepts that made us fans to begin with.
As years went on, Wale has not kept up with his initial momentum after his ambitious sophomore effort. Meek Mill has surpassed him in terms of popularity and after releasing his 5th studio album ‘SHINE‘’, word spread that the project was only expected to do rock bottom numbers in comparison to past projects.
Folarin was his vocal attempt to talk about the apparent declining popularity, whether on Twitter, during radio interviews, or even the much publicized phone call to Complex after not making the 50 Best Albums of the Year list in 2013.
Peer, J.Cole also felt the need to speak on his close friend in his song “False Prophets” which dropped in anticipation for his album that released late in the year.
“I got a homie he a rapper and he wants to win bad. He want the fame, the acclaim and respect that’s been had by all the legends. So every time I see him he’s stressing. Talking about niggas don’t fuck with him, that shit is depressing”
Contrary to many, as someone I feel is one of the most talented lyricists of our time, should Wale have the right to be bitter about not receiving the same acclaim over the years as his peers? In various interviews, Wale has contributed his deficit in popularity due to the complexity of his song concepts, the tone of his skin, the fact that he is from the middle of the east coast which gives him neither a northern or southern identity nor his speech impediment.
Many people would feel that Wale’s outlook on his career is bitter. I believe every top 10 draft pick doesn’t end up living out their full potential often sometimes because of tangible factors like their skill set and ability. Wale hasn’t exactly compromised his lyrics by dumbing them down, or appear to be media trained to become more likeable or even try to take speech classes to pronounce words more sharp and precisely.
All the above could have brought Wale into a larger platform but Instead, he continues to be himself and his fans continue to love him for it. For those reasons Wale might never be remembered as one of the greatest of all time and even possibly forgotten when we mention the greats of his era. In my opinion you can’t name 5 MC’s who have out-rapped Wale over the last 10 years, and I know some of you may beg to differ.
So in the conversation of of Wale, yes, he might not be remembered as one of the top lyricists to date. And that might just be the price you pay in hip-hop for just being yourself and sticking to the grain.