Wale Folarin is stuck between making the music he wants to and languishing in limbo, or rolling with the Maybach and changing it up to put food on the table. His new album, Ambition, finds him waffling between both worlds trying to find his direction. Opening track, “Don’t Hold The Applause,” is a beautiful composition with rich key progressions, vocal arrangement and strings, but not much in the way of expansion lyrically.“Double M Genius,” confounds with great lines like “pass the L like a semicolon” inhabiting the same space as uninspired stanzas like, “a modern day Good Fella, I’m Ray Liota.” This frustrating dichotomy is present in different spots across the album. Producer Mark Henry bangs with “Miami Nights,” a rousing production that takes you on a journey through the South Florida hotspot. Wale settles in on “Legendary” with denser rhymes and a slower flow. Wale notes, “It’s something to be great, it’s nothing to be famous,” a true statement made ironic by the turn of his career, but in its place, a stellar centerpiece for a well-done song that speaks to his real talent.
“Lotus Flower Bomb” features quickie master Miguel and Wale in the love zone. The cliché rhythm of the drum brings a formulaic feel to the track and Miguel’s vocal arrangements blunt anything special about this song and its pedestrian lyricism. “Chain Music” finds Wale in full power with certain arrogance, over dynamic mood music. This is about as cool as it gets for Mr. Folarin. “Focused” features former antagonist Kid Cudi on a track that’s good for peace but meh for music. Nothing special here.
The production star of the album comes on the broken love story “Sabotage.” Wale freaks the Young Chris staccato flow as Lloyd plays Michael Jackson karaoke. This beat is so infectious, fun and full of emotion that you could sing the “ABC’s” over it and still win. Wale gets so caught up in the song that he loses his voice, while the arrangements take Lloyd to another level. The song is awesome and evidence of the real ambition that lives within Wale. The blahness and any-rapper-can-do-thisness of “White Linen,” featuring Ne-Yo short circuits the momentum. Not that it’s bad, but we’ve heard this song a thousand times, 50 of them with Ne-Yo on the hook.
Wale’s low point on the album is getting wiped of the track by the mediocre Big Sean on Diplo-produced “Slight Work.” I’m sure it will bang in the club as anything Diplo does, but this is drivel and the kind of thing that sophomoric rappers like Big Sean thrive on. The title track is another high on the album, opening with a melancholy backdrop to Meek Mill’s rise from the slums and tearfully happy survivor talk. Ross jumps his husky ass all over the middle verse with all the never-say-die presence of someone who toughed out a decade in this music before finally succeeding. Wale BODIES this beat with his best performance on the album with perhaps his realest truth here:
I ain’t spend a minute up in the streets, but I’m limitless mentally, I’m lyrically Z emcee, Lebron shit, I was into 6 after 23/ and family is everything, money is less important long as your momma love you, don’t ever love a woman/I got a lot a lot of women and they got a lot of feelings but I got that green in my eyes and that ain’t no Donnie Simpson…”
Those lines speak volumes about what Wale is on right now.
Then he gets quirky over acoustic guitars on “Illest B” which morphs into some Teddy Riley post Guy synth shit on the hooks and totally disrupts the flow and it’s not good. Thank heavens for “No Days” and its slow muscular presence to wash the taste out your mouth. He brings it back home on “DC or Nothing.” The strings create and angelic backdrop almost ruined by the vocalists until a mean electric guitar wipes the vocalists off and hand-clapped pacing and muted snares surround rough drums beneath. Wale’s narrative powers come into play here and the track succeeds. It should have been the close of the album, but that space is reserved for the already released, “That Way” featuring Rauce and Jeremih.
Perhaps Wale’s association with the Maybach is his Trojan Horse back into the Hip-Populism he originally espoused. There are spots of brilliance leaking out on Ambition, and this isn’t’ the album about nothing. But for someone as talented as Wale, regardless of how you personally feel about him, it’s a shame the fans never supported him when he was truly ambitious.
out of 5
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