As we come to the end of one of the most diverse musical decades, we must zero in on one of this decade’s most influential and brilliant lyricist, Wale, and his sixth studio album Wow…That’s Crazy. – Wale tells Variety, “Hands down, this is my most personal project…Somebody told me the other day that this is a beautiful, healing album, and it’s the beginning stages of healing from black trauma. It’s unapologetically black, but it’s also a healing — the good and bad that comes from all the shit that comes from being a black man or a black woman in America.” – This most recent body of work is laced in 15 tracks amid features from Kelly Price, Megan Thee Stallion, Meek Mill, Jeremih and more. On the production side, this project features stylings from seasoned producers such as Bizness Boi, Oz and D Woo, to name a few. Wow…That’s Crazy is also the first album he’s released with Warner Bros since his departure from Atlantic Records. It’s brimming in star features and immaculate production but was it enough? In my opinion, Wale doesn’t have “first-listen-albums.” You can’t listen to a Wale album one-time and grasp all its’ lyrical intricacies and depth. He creates albums that need to be left on repeat in order to acknowledge the full scope of his intellect.
Wow…That’s Crazy is a notable contribution to this year’s discography alongside other great contributions like Lizzo’s Cuz I Love You, Summer Walker’s Over It and Rapsody’s Eve, to list a few. The album opens with one of my personal favorites, “Sue Me,” featuring the legendary Kelly Price. In the hook he raps, “Sue me, I'm rootin' for everybody that's black /That's everybody from sports to college class to rap, and back.” Wale uses his music to uplift and spread empowerment. He’s never gone “Hollywood” on us and switched up his potent metaphors for a hodgepodge of meaningless verses. This record is a brawny start to the album; thereafter he slips into some afro-beats infusions with “Love & Loyalty” featuring Mannywellz. I can appreciate the record, but I don’t love it. Next up, “The Cliché,” featuring Ari Lennox and Boogie, listens with a melodic hook from Ari and some personal bars from each emcee. I like this record, but I don’t know if I’m drawn to it. Would I put in on my personal playlist, probably not but I love the message of finding that complimentary lover and working through personal trials together amidst battling trials alone. Wale can’t make a song about nothing thus it’s never the content that’s lacking but the overall sonic catchiness that determines rather I’d add it to my playlist or not. For example, one of his best records to date, in my opinion, is “Illest Bitch” off his 2011 Ambition album – a definite classic in his discography. That particular track wasn’t just catchy but the production and the way in which he rode the beat was impeccable. It forced me to listen over and over. He raps in the second verse, “Baby father bullshittin', you two don't even speak / Ain't seen his seed in 14 days, that n** too week /Couple shy of a month, I ain't runnin' you up /When it be too loose or you be too late /We ain't tyin' no knot.” – Wale’s wordplay is ridiculous in this record and myriad others. Back to this album, the next record “Expectations” featuring 6BLACK, is one of his most lyrically necessary efforts. The first verse details some of the plights, PTSD and turbulence Wale has endured in this industry amid his own personal life. While the second verse, discusses body dysmorphia where he raps, “Summer approach, she look in the mirror / She wish it was winter her tummy is poking / Looking at Instagram making you sick GUESS / The figure your fishing for ain’t in the ocean LOVE / Your potential is more than good / Expectations is bogus though / Talk about what the eye don’t see / This is body DYSMORPHIA.” Messages like this are vital to the modern-day pulse of our generation. Not talking about it, doesn’t make it go away and audacious emcees like Wale capture the emotional and mental quandaries of a good bulk of this generation through his music. Years later, people will be able to listen to a Wale album and hear what the world was going through at that time, what issues we were facing, what love was like, what the music industry was like. Wale’s mental state pours out over this track and it’s that rawness that makes him a revered lyricist and human being. Next up, he changes tempo with socially significant and ambitious tracks like “BGM (Black Girl Magic).” More than a record for the culture, this is a record crafted and molded around the greatness that is a BLACK WOMAN. We expect that from him. We need it. – As the project continues, he gifts us a candid dichotomy with the opposing views from “Love…(Her Fault)” featuring Bryson Tiller and “Break My Heart (My Fault)” featuring Lil Durk. Again, this is what I mean when I say that years later people will be able to listen to Wale’s music and know what love was like. “Love…(Her Fault)” details what it’s like to fall into love or a situationship in the modern day and how its demise can be her fault before it gets a chance to be his. He raps,” You don't want no title? Cool ,you don't get no title, love /Peddle to my side bitches, now that's a vicious cycle, girl / You better, yeah / Would you rather love or just someone to like your pictures? Yeah / Met you in the club, I don't expect you to stop hitting 'em.” We’re living in a time where everything is so easily assessible – flesh included and Wale touches on that. But who’s to blame for that reality is the question? We are constantly desensitized by social media and star-studded fabrications of relationships. In the second half of this whole, “Break My Heart (My Fault)” he confesses his role in a love that’s now lost, rapping, “You deserve a bouquet / You deserve a true label / Fuck a post on a page / You supposed to be great (yeah) /And I just lie in your face / You just laugh in your head /"Why this n** so fake?" He’s admitting his faults thereby acknowledging his role in the demolition of the relationship. Most humans, not just men, humans’ period, don’t like to admit their wrongs, let alone admit that they were fully cognizant of their role in what led to a relational downfall. However, this album isn’t full of only dark tides and gloomy lyrical shadows; it brims in high energy bangers as well. Top-charting singles like “On Chill” featuring Jeremih and inescapable anthems like “Routine” featuring Meek Mill and Rick Ross marvel in his knack for true hit-making. While records like “Debbie” and “Love Me Nina/ Semiautomatic” further emphasize why he deserves a high-ranking on any ‘Top 50 Rappers’ list.
However, I think the word “deserve” can be crippling to an artist like Wale because for him that word weighs heavily on his subconscious and on his ability to feel accomplished. Does he deserve all the plaques, awards and Grammy’s? Sure, but it doesn’t mean he’ll get them. There are plenty of legendary emcees that have never garnered the accolades they deserve. Yeah, it sucks but it’s the reality of this industry and although this album delves into his cognizance of how brutal this industry is, it doesn’t dive into his acceptance there of – that’s the problem – in my humble opinion, of course. In “Love Me Nina/Semiautomatic” he raps, “I'm sorry, I was humble on all them red carpets / I got embarrassed, GRAMMYs carried me for Sandra Bullock /Photo ops the paparazzi was opting out of /Was doing drops for jockeys that ain't bother my album.” During his Breakfast Club interview, he details the moment when he was invited to the Grammy’s and he went after Sandra Bullock on the red carpet, of course the paparazzi went crazy for her but didn’t extend that same level of excitement to him. He’s accomplished so much but he seems very focused and bothered by what he believes he hasn’t achieved. Being invited to the Grammy’s, at all, is an honor and I wouldn’t care if only one photographer took my picture on the red carpet. All I would care about is that I’m in the building, period. Some critics view Wale as a chronic complainer and whiner in the music industry but it’s not that. He’s an artist and he’s sensitive about his shit – simple – or is it? I guess one day I’ll have to ask him or is the answer in this album buried beneath abstruse metaphors and obscure bars? Time will tell. – Back to Wow…That’s Crazy, as the album comes to a close, records like “50 In Da Safe” featuring Pink Sweat$ and “Pole Dancer” featuring Megan Thee Stallion bask in his ear for new talent. The world barely felt the pulse of Megan and he already had a feature from her. He spots talent early on – it’s impressive. He’s done the same A&R-like trot with artists like Tiara Thomas, Eric Bellinger and SZA. Overall this is a solid body of work but it’s not his best. In “Sue Me” he raps, “Everybody be asking my sixth album my last.” This couldn’t be his last album because although he has a decade plus in this game and about 20 projects released in total, he still has more to give, and he’ll keep giving – hopefully.