The Great Debate: Did Wale Sell Out?
When Rick Ross announced that Wale was signing to Maybach Music Group, I, like many others, expressed a bit of concern with the D.C. emcee’s new alliance. Some wondered exactly how Wale would fit in with an ex-cop turned faux drug dealer turned silk shirt wearing rapper and his hustlin’ style of music. After all, this was a rapper that the underground championed and expected to keep it real while representing the DMV to the fullest. Nobody anticipated the jump to Rick Ross (of all people) and his newly formed label.
“Selling out” was the furthest thing from my mind.
An odd coupling, yes, but once you got used to it then you realize that it always made sense. We just refused to take the blinders off.
Trying to pigeonhole Wale as a backpack rapper because of the fact that he established his presence on the internet and has long been lauded by hip-hop heads for his lyrical ability was the wrong move from the beginning. If you’ve listened to Wale, he’s about as complex of a rapper as they come. In one breath he can wax poetic about artistic integrity and color complexes amongst African Americans and in the next he’s spilling rhymes about girls cutting loose in the club.
Think about it, what are the first few songs you heard from Wale? Most likely – unless you are from the DMV – the song that got you familiar with Wale Victor Folarin was 2009’s rowdy “Nike Boots.” Others noticed Wale when he appeared alongside The Roots on “Rising Up.” Then there are the real heads that have been following his career since 2005’s “Paint a Picture.” That mixtape alone demonstrated the wide range that Wale possessed. If you heard “Whisper to Em” or “What You Know About Wale” then you are keenly aware of Wale’s duel personalities on record.
Somehow, we ignored that side of Wale for as long as we possibly could. We wanted Wale to be more “Rediscover Me” than “Pimp Hard.” But, just like most hip-hop fans like to do, we’d rather tell our favorite rappers what they are supposed to be rather than let them be what they are. Once they don’t fit in our neat little box anymore we decide to call them a sellout.
How nice of us, right?
So, when Wale opted to jump ship from Mark Ronson’s Allido Records to Rick Ross’ Maybach Music Group, everyone was critical because they felt it was an obvious reach for more exposure. Well duh! Isn’t a broader audience what you are supposed to be striving to achieve as an artist? Perhaps Wale has it all wrong and should have stayed on a label that he felt was stifling his creativity and mainstream appeal because that’s what we wanted him to do. Yeah, right.
Skepticism should have been met if Wale truly changed the content of his lyrics on Ambition. But if you listen closely to him, he hasn’t changed much of anything. It’s not like he’s saying Noriega owes him a hundred favors or bustin’ pistols through windshields. The only thing that has really changed is the production. Yes, there are more “No Hands” songs that send strippers scrambling for the pole, but isn’t that part of what he has always done?
2006’s “Dig Dug (Shake It)” showcased Wale’s penchant for rowdy club anthems that will put rotund backsides on ample women in motion. If you are familiar with Go-Go music, then you know that those clubs can get rowdy as f*ck and Wale has always brought that element into his music. Now, all of a sudden, people are shocked that he’ll drop a song like “Bait” and a set of visuals that you can only watch in the privacy of your own home. Shocked? You shouldn’t be.
Ambition isn’t a misrepresentation of Wale, it is who he is. That’s not to say that this is a good or a bad album, this is about whether or not Wale sold his soul to sell some records. It’s certainly not Attention Deficit, but wouldn’t that defeat the purpose if he did that album all over again? It didn’t sell the first time despite the critical acclaim it was showered with. Instead, Ambition finds Wale traversing over familiar landscape with a different sound. If you actually listen to Ambition, you’ll realize that Mr. Folarin is still here. Wale still spits his green tea poetry on “Lotus Flower Bomb,” scatters numerous sports references and thought provoking musings in his rhymes while still packing in those Go-Go drums on songs like “Don’t Hold Your Applause.” Things are easier to follow and everything is a little bit catchier. If you’re mad about that, so be it. But selling out? Nope.
Now does that make a good album? Well, that’s another topic in itself.