“I’ve got Grammy nominations. I’ve got number one records. My songs are triple platinum. I have a platinum single myself, gold singles left and right. I don’t even know if I would be able to do anything other than a passion product..a product that’s saying to all you rap n****s, ‘step your sh*t up’.”
Without naming specific artists, Wale used his listening party for The Album About Nothing as a platform to announce a forthcoming album deep enough to challenge all peers and opposition. In so many words, Wale warns competitors that they should expect to be lyrically demolished if they lack creativity.
Wale lovers know that he expresses his creativity with a very cultured and cultivated application of the spoken word. This blessing, however, also seems to be a double-edged sword in the D.C. representative’s career. His 2009 album, Attention Deficit, and the subsequent mixtape, More About Nothing, both tackled serious social issues and shared thoughtful introspection to the delight of his critically thinking listeners. This held no weight in the revenue department, though, because his sales tanked. From 2008 to 2010, rappers who were more focused on making comebacks, club bangers and promoting consumerism, made the most noise where sales was concerned. In fact, Jay Z‘s The Blueprint III and Eminem‘s Relapse were the year’s top sellers.
At the time, album order and supply errors, coupled with the social climate of rap, caused sales of Attention Deficit to remain devastatingly low. Unlike many conscious rappers, however, Wale didn’t just sit back at 2009’s end listening to hipster accolades. He paid attention to numbers.
In 2011, when Wale dropped his sophomore album, Ambition, under the MMG umbrella, fans of his earlier work accused him of turning in his artistic license. After all, where would the poet get his inspiration in MMG’s world of money, hoes and dope?
Showing himself to be more than an artist but a savvy and independent businessman, Wale partnered with another top seller in 2009, Def Jam rapper Rick Ross. At the time, Ross’ was in the midst of an impressive sales streak–3 consecutive #1 albums–and he was getting ready to drop the best album of his career, Teflon Don, while he actively recruited young talent for his Warner Music–soon to be Atlantic Records–imprint, Maybach Music Group (MMG). In 2011, when Wale dropped his sophomore album, Ambition, under the MMG umbrella, fans of his earlier work accused him of turning in his artistic license. After all, where would the poet get his inspiration in MMG’s world of money, hoes and dope? Wale did, however, meet his goal in terms of numbers. Both Ambition and his third album, 2013’s The Gifted, debuted in the Top 2 of Billboard’s album chart–The Gifted notched Wale his first #1 album–selling over 300,000 and 400,000 copies, respectively.
Still, every blessing comes with a curse, a cliche seemingly indicative of the D.C. native’s career. Even with the commercial success of his last two albums, Wale continues to experience an imposed inferiority complex exacerbated when Complex magazine–pun intended–editors omitted The Gifted from their “The 50 Best Albums Of 2013” list. It was also omitted from similar lists published by Spin and Rolling Stone.
There is much conjecture over why Wale isn’t commanding the respect, the elite status, that top sales would normally bestow. No one can be quite sure so early in an artist’s career. However, the streets of Wale’s core fan base, Washington, D.C., are heated with accusations. Fans say Wale is simply experiencing career karma because the artist didn’t stay true to home. They claim that once he joined MMG, Wale stopped sampling home grown Go-Go music beats and lost a sound that should have been his signature. Many go as far as to say that he effectively abandoned the Go-Go sound altogether, which is the same sound he first used to bring national recognition to his brand of Hip Hop.
In the trailer for The Album About Nothing, Wale addresses his fans who consistently claim to “miss the old Wale.” Without sharing sad eyes with the camera, the normally smug rapper humbly admits to having gotten lost in the glamour of fame, groupies and easy living. As the promo music turns more upbeat, he lets us know to expect to travel back to a simpler time when Hip Hop was honest.
The word “honest” makes me think of Honest Tea: 100% natural ingredients, free of fillers or fancy labels. It’s like Wale is telling his audience to get ready to experience the day to day nuances that make life rich without diamonds and custom-designed Bentleys. Perhaps, he’s saying he’ll stop caring about making lists and we should too. Maybe he will prove the superstitions of his core fans right; come correct with some original go-go beats, and finally get the acknowledgment his music deserves.
Only time will tell as we sit in anticipation of chapter IV of Wale’s Hip Hop legacy.
Doprah No Filtah is a native of Washington, D.C. and a lifelong lover of the genre. Follow her on Twitter @SNSNightlifeMag.