Washington D.C-based rapper Wale has already made big changes to his short music career.
Though his 2009 debut album Attention Deficit received critical acclaim, it garnered poor album sales. according to a radio interview Wale did on WPGC 95.5 in D.C. earlier this year, poor album sales, as well as a lack in confidence from record executives, led to Wale’s move from the major label Interscope Records to the newly formed Maybach Music Group, headed by rapper Rick Ross.
Evidently, Wale stood out; many reviews, including one in XXL Magazine, said Wale outshined his label-mates on the album Self made Vol. 1, which included label boss Rick Ross himself.
And with even more anticipation behind his newest album Ambition, Wale had a lot to prove.
The first three tracks — “Don’t Hold Your Applause,” “Double M Genius” and “Miami Nights” — have a triumphantly celebratory sound, incorporating dynamic horn sections and lyrics about success. They set the tone for the album, showing off Wale’s confidence.
Ambition isn’t solely about “luxury rap,” however — the album also has its share of songs about women, bringing in some celebrated R&B singers to lend their talents to the album.
The lead single, “That way,” with collaborators Rick Ross and Jeremih — also featured on Self made Vol. 1 — features Wale and Rick Ross discussing women over a laid-back beat accentuated by the light use of piano throughout the song. Rick Ross fits well with his “boss” style verse, and Wale’s relaxed flow pushes the song along smoothly. Jeremih’s strong vocals add control to the calm hook, effectively bringing the song together.
Similarly, “Lotus Flower Bomb” entices listeners with its smooth vocals as up-and-comer Miguel works with Wale’s sensual beat. the two complement one another quite well in this song about turning a one-time meeting into a long-term relationship.
Though “Lotus Flower Bomb” is compelling, “Sabotage,” featuring Lloyd, goes beyond intrigue and sets itself apart as one of the album’s clear standouts.
Accordingly, Wale and Lloyd create an honest aura in their verses as they rap about a girl who cannot stay committed to a relationship. Wale’s voice gets progressively coarser throughout the song, giving his verses a raw sense of emotion. the track’s beat has a catchy old-school feel to it, and the live instrumentation of the drums, guitars and horns draws the listener in.
Not surprisingly, Ambition features several songs about Wale’s ambitions to reach the top of the hip-hop game. “Focused” has Kid Cudi singing on the hook over a hard-hitting beat, with Wale dropping lines like I be kickin’ my raps good, with or without sales / I’m killin’ these blackheads, my rap is Noxzema.
Though the other numbers impress, it is the title track, “Ambition,” that might have the best beat on the entire album: It’s epic, dark sound gives the track a fittingly serious feel. It features fellow Maybach Music Group rappers Meek mill and Rick Ross, and though these two deliver very respectable verses, Wale once again shines over them on this track.
The same cannot be said about “Slight Work,” which features G.O.O.D. Music rapper Big Sean. the up-tempo club-style beat samples a whooping alarm, a woman saying “work it,” and other pops and clicks, making the song sound fun and catchy. what it lacks in its beat, it makes up for with its lyrics. Big Sean kills with his flow, possibly spitting the best lines on the entire album: top floor like I’m out tanning / and they stole your whole delivery, now that’s outlandish / I guess like the delivery man, I’m outstanding / Car-tinted, I’m in that tint like I’m out camping.
It is difficult to pick out a few standout tracks on this album, but this is not a bad thing. Ambition is an album in the true sense of the word; it is not filled with radio-ready singles, nor is it a couple of pop-y songs surrounded by a bunch of average filler tracks. It is a collection of exceptional songs that gives listeners insight into the way Wale interprets life and his own experiences.
On Ambition, Wale takes a big step toward defining his style — musically and thematically. the growth from his freshman to sophomore album shows a shift from storytelling rap covering broad topics to lyricism based on punch lines and deviating from the mainstream. Is it something that everyone will enjoy in this world driven by chart rankings and mega-hit singles? no. but those who want an album composed of truly innovative hip-hop will be more than satisfied.
With this album, Wale has demonstrated how far ambition can really get you.