In Washington D.C., there are two main types of music people support: the popular local music genre known as “go-go” and almost anything Wale releases. Upon the announcement of his new album in mid-March, anticipation started to buzz throughout the city. His main single from the album, “Bad,” which features fellow Washingtonian Tiara Thomas, seemed to gain traction not only locally, but nationally as well. The winding beat, smooth chorus and the creaking bed background could be heard through car speakers around the country, something that could not necessarily be said even a year ago. Although he gained early support from the DMV (D.C., Maryland, Virginia), both rap fans and fellow artists were extremely critical of Wale. From the infamous Kid Cudi-Wale feud to his early parting with Interscope Records, Wale has faced adversity throughout his career, which helped shape and create his third album, The Gifted.
With The Gifted, Wale had complete control over the album, including the ability to control key aspects of the album such as production and engineering. In doing so Wale has created his most personal album. He discusses everything from his personal struggles dealing with fame, money, women, his temper, among other things, leaving almost no stone unturned in his musical depiction of his life. This narrative really starts with the album cover. The unconventional image of a bust of Wale paired with a mural of money, shady men in front of a grocery store and women in front of the Capitol all paint a picture that is discussed much more deeply within the music. Almost like a book, the cover of The Gifted can really only be understood upon listening to the full album, where upon completing it the meaning of the mural and statue is revealed.
Like a book, every song seems like a chapter, each one leading into the other. Sometimes they are literally connected to one another (at the end of track 3, titled “Sunshine,” he ends the song by repeating “we ain’t ‘posed to neva…” which is the chorus for track 4, titled “Heaven’s Afternoon”), but most other times the connection is through the content. The natural transition from Wale’s reflection on his past and current situations to his beliefs and feelings towards women, and then finally his expectations of the future fuse together chronologically in a way most other rap albums do not.
By following this structure, Wale actually creates an extremely well-rounded album. Oftentimes, rappers stick to what they are characteristically known for– however, Wale shows off his versatility, showcasing his ability to create songs for everyone. He has smooth airy songs with lots of personal meaning (“Sunshine,” “Heaven’s Afternoon,” Gullible”), songs that can turn any social gathering into a full-blown dance party (“Clappers”) and romantic songs (“Bad Remix,” “Tired of Dreaming”) all on the same album. The ability to have these different types of songs, and others not mentioned, on the same album is something not many others can do across hip-hop. The ability to create a sonically pleasing, complete album such as this is really what makes Wale gifted.
Some may not like every song on the album, but I would be shocked if the average listener could not find at least one song that they like. The diversity, personal depth and story-telling nature of this album is unparalleled in rap this year and is something that Wale can possibly become a pioneer of. As a long time Wale fan, I believe this is his best album, and it could not have come at a better time. With his career being on the precipice of success once again Wale proves that he is really here to stay and that his once believed over-rated tag can be lifted for one of greatness. By creating one of the best albums of the summer, and maybe the year, Wale has really proved that he deserves to be considered one of the greats in hip-hop, with this album being merely a springboard into the future.