There are a few key takeaways from Wale’s sophomore album, Ambition, that allow for a tidy synthesis of his message. One, for the sake of being obvious, is that he is from Washington, D.C. (If you haven’t figured this out from Attention: Deficit, please see an audiologist). The second is that he really, really loves women. A third is that he wasn’t famous, and now he is. And perhaps the most resounding of all: Wale has recently made quite a lot of money.
After Attention: Deficit stoked the flames of Wale’s hype (perhaps prematurely) he more-or-less dropped off the map. Ambition does little to restore the same interest in the Capitol’s emcee. His flow is at times disappointingly arid (think blasé luxury car references, excessive braggadocio involving female consorts), and his bottom-shelf beats are doused in lethargic R&B instrumentals and convoluted backing tracks.
At its worst, Ambition is wan and directionless. “No Days Off” is a repetitive, synthesizer-heavy dirge with no hook and a trite chorus: “No days off / No days off / Heard they comin’ for a nigga / Bitch, I’m Ray Charles.” The portentous melody blindly circles itself until the drone literally becomes a piercing strain to the ear.
To be fair, there are some auspicious moments. Leadoff track “Don’t Hold Your Applause” has a jazzy piano riff, treble fills and sensual female vocals. Wale’s quick-tempo verses almost trip over the count, but they hang tight on the backbeat. “Miami Nights” has a meaty arrangement that rides on staccato horns and calls to mind the old-school “chipmunk soul” of College Dropout-era Kanye West.
It’s hard to think of what’s worse: superficial humility from an overconfident yet successful rapper or an unproven, smug rapper prematurely arrogant from his rather limited sip of fame. Wale wades somewhere in between these two inclinations. For a relatively successful guy, Wale sure finds a lot to complain about. He whines about the travesties of shopping in public (“I ain’t finna wait in line!”). He spouts offensive epithets about his haters (“What the fuck are you, retarded?”). He plays the hopeless romantic (“Let’s roll a J and pretend we in love”). He even offers up some advice about personal hygiene (“Yo bitches should buy a loofah!”).
But the most annoying thing about entire record isn’t the listless R&B burners or Wale’s abundant platitudes concerning post-Hennessey fornication. Nope, the most irksome part is the female robot baying “Maybach music” bookending almost every track. Yes, Wale, you are signed to Rick Ross’s Maybach Music Group. Granted, rappers like to rep their labels (like Young Money … often), but this takes gratitude from charmingly loyal to downright irritating. Rick Ross plays the doting Daddy Warbucks, as he hounds the album with guest spots on probably a third of the album, un-credited and otherwise.
In this rising crop of rappers looking to be the next self-conscious-yet-douchebaggy-Everybro, the cream is beginning to rise to the top (J. Cole, Drake) — and Ambition does little to buoy Wale’s chances. Per usual with many rappers who have garnered any semblance of mainstream recognition, Wale’s lyrics have morphed from sharp, self-aware witticisms to sterile invectives detailing his rise to fame (with the occasional sports reference).
Ambition may be rife with hard-to-relate-to truisms, but mostly it stinks of pure, overblown confidence: “I deserve praise / I deserve applause.” Not quite, Wale.