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Album Review: Wale’s ‘The Gifted’

Ilya S. Savenok, Getty Images

Wale is back with his third solo album, ‘The Gifted’ and usual he’s got something to prove. It’s not that he can sell records–after going gold with his last release, ‘Ambition,’ the DMV native has left that pressure in the past. (‘The Gifted’ will debut on the Billboard 200 at No.1 with about 150,000 copies sold). But he still feels that he needs to get his just due in the respect department.

Wale remains a polarizing figure amongst the hip-hop community, with some gravitating towards his honesty while others find him trite or just downright boring. ‘The Gifted’ feels like a final attempt to silence the naysayers once and for all.

Wale covers a full range of emotions and concepts, creating a balanced picture of the his psyche. For every party song like ‘Clappers,’ a surefire hit that pays homage to the late “Godfather of Go-go” Chuck Brown, there is a song like ‘Vanity,’ which sees Wale introspective and somber. One of the highlights comes on ‘Heaven’s Afternoon,’ where Wale reflects on the fate of inner city youth, shouting out the late Capital STEEZ of Pro Era, who committed suicide.

‘The Gifted’ might be the best-produced album of 2013. It starts with the lush sounds of the intro, ‘The Curse Of The Gifted,’ produced by the legendary Sean C & LV. Just Blaze delivers a monster track too in ’88.’ The majority of the project is helmed by a tandem of Tone P and Stokley Williams, the lead vocalist for Mint Condition. Together, the two create a soulful soundscape that retains a modern feel. This is exemplified on the song ‘LoveHate Thing,’ a smooth song that finds Wale talking on his relationship with his hometown D.C. Wale also steps into the production ring, as he is credited under the name “Ralph Folarin” for ‘Simple Man.’ The beat might be as simple as the song’s title, but its menacing keys and thumping bassline make it a standout track.

Unfortunately, when it comes to sealing the deal lyrically, Wale falters on ‘The Gifted.’ His storyline retreads a duality between ego and humility that other emcees have internalized in their musical careers. Rather than indulge within an extreme to make it compelling (i.e., the way Kanye feeds into his narcissism throughout his career), Wale shortchanges himself by dabbling between both poles on a superficial level. A song like ‘Vanity,’ while good as a premise, is simply too deliberate and heavy-handed to be engaging.

On a technical level, Wale can pack words into his bars, but this does not mask the elementary rhyme scheme he employs throughout. Finally, his punchlines are either cringe-worthy (“I eat this game and shit this out/My dirty drawers got winning streaks”) or ineffective.

Ultimately, Wale’s lapses in lyrical prowess cannot negate the undeniable strengths of ‘The Gifted.’ The attention to detail in the concepts and production is tied together with powerful choruses from Wale that are undeniably catchy. However, this project had the potential to be so much more, an opportunity squandered as a result of some lackluster writing. Wale might be eager to prove himself as one of the best lyricists in the game, but when he lets the bars do the talking they just don’t measure up.

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