June 6, 2013

waleSlava P wrote this in lieu of herbal therapy.

Hello Wale, are you there? It’s me, Slava.

You might not remember me, but I remember you. We were first introduced in 2007 when I downloaded your mixtape, 100 Miles & Running off the strength of your Justice collaboration. I appreciated your punchy delivery and cheeky lyrics, where punchlines often took multiple bars to unfurl and obscure sports references ran rampant. I appreciated that you were able to poke fun at yourself while still seemingly enjoying the process of making music, figuratively looking up to Jay-Z on some songs and laughing off your inability to sing on others. I appreciated that you lent a voice to Washington DC, an area that up until then had gone relatively ignored by young rap fans like myself. You were Wale, and you seemingly came to get it.

You released three more mixtapes druing 2008 to 2010. You related your life to Seinfeld; a surprisingly original and hilarious concept. In the opening track for The Mixtape About Nothing, you shined using the “what’s the deal with…” lead while sampling the iconic TV baseline and pondering about pertinent social issues, the state of hip-hop, and the struggle of getting popular on blogs. This was a couple years before #KushAndOrangeJuice and almost five years before the tumblr-wave, making your NikeTalk-influenced bravado a cutting edge display of bringing insignificant issues to the fore-front.

These tapes also featured guest verses from artists who were far removed from my current listening habits. I was introduced to acts like J.Cole, Big Sean, Jean Grae, Skyzoo, and the newly-solo Pusha T & I was reminded of the existence of Joe Budden, Joell Ortiz and Memphis Bleek. You were a humorist, you were a curator, you were self-aware, you were Wale – and you were still here to get it.

In 2009, you made my top 5 new rapper cut, the benefits of which included having your shit played incessantly in my car and having your back-story regaled to my friends. I mentioned your name in the same breathe as Jay Electronica and J.Cole for “who had next” and your appearance on the cover of XXL as a freshman bolstered my confidence in you. You shared the cover withnine other rappers– three of whom would break industry norms and pave their own lane for varying periods of time: BoB, Kid Cudi and Curren$y.

I spent my hard-earned money on buying a physical copy of Attention Deficit to play in my car and wasn’t even mad at what I heard. Sure, you veered away from your original humor and self-awareness, but the resulting project was still open and raw, albeit slightly saccharine in delivery and beat choices. It also featured enough Canadian talent in a pre-Drake environment that I had to applaud it on principle.

Looking back, the album featured two cuts that would go on to foreshadow how the rest of your career would shape up: “90210” and “Pretty Girls.” Both songs were directed at the women who deemed themselves too good for simple men such as yourself, and you poked fun at them for being so judgmental and for having so little life … ambition. You were still Wale, but now you had a better idea of how you would go about getting it.

On February 5, 2011, you announced that you would be signing to MMG, a newly formed crew led by the corpulent captain Rick Ross. You promised that this wouldn’t affect anything about your music and I was naive enough to believe you at the time. As the months went on, it seemed that either this new position on MMG had emboldened you to become more brash and abrasive than ever, or that you had duped me from the start and that your earlier image was just a quickly deteriorating facade. You promised a new project and compared it to Reasonable Doubt with your earlier tongue in cheek quips about wanting to be the new Jay-Z.

The new album was Ambition and sought to inspire the “pretty girls” that you had previously mocked. I listened as you promised to take them under your dreaded wing and encouraged them to pass the bar –instead of waiting beside it for free drinks or being more than the video girls you lusted for on your last album. It was an album for sorority girls, about sorority girls. You became a new Wale, and I didn’t know which “it” you were trying to get anymore.

And now here we are. Your new album features a stone-carved bust of yourself for its cover

Your ego seems to have been weakened even further, to where you’ll lash out at innocent Twitter personalities or Toronto Raptors announcers for the smallest things. You seem to have become more preoccupied with staying famous at all costs, only to hate the side-effects that come with it. I wonder if your inclusion to MMG has become more of a curse than a gift. You joined an extravagant group where you were unable to speak on decadence because your boss has filled that lane, nor were you able to describe the rise to riches because your shrieking label-mate had already filled that role. You were pigeon-holed into rapping about shoes, depleting sports references, and ambitious women. Will I listen to your new album? Yes. But I know that I won’t be listening to the same artist I heard on 100 Miles And Running. Your name is still Wale, but in my eyes, you’ve lost it.