The stars are aligning for Wale’s sophomore album, Ambition, to be a showcase of the rapper squarely hitting his stride lyrically and pushing his comfort zone sonically after aligning himself with a burgeoning hip-hop force in Rick Ross’ Maybach Music Group imprint.
Buzz for the release centered on two storylines; the rapper’s noticeable assertiveness on the mic and the aura surrounding everything coming out of the “it” hip-hop crew.
There was some pressure on Wale to continue the hot streak they’re on from Self Made to Meek Mill’s Dream Chaser mixtape, but the rapper — who has been unafraid of being completely honest about his feelings over tracks — finds a way.
Toeing the line of where to box him, he’s seems undeterred by an emo tag earned for his constant commentary on the love life of pop star and addresses his female fans on his past relationship ills or his honest expectations more directly.
How ambitious was Ambition? The short answer: very.
From its onset, Wale turns what you may have expected from an MMG project on his head. Neatly tucked away were the synthy-anthemic jams fitted with radio-friendly choruses and signature adlibs, instead the album was surprisingly smooth.
“Don’t Hold Your Applause” was more go-go than expected but an outright lyrical decree of his awesomeness setting the tone for just how brash but dope he expects to be on the project. Admittedly vain but pretty flawless as an opener even without being as stark record, we’ve come to expect from MMG.
After hearing “Double M Genius,” which is dope but playfully light, “Miami Nights” — the antithesis of the seedy, 80s Miami dark side we’re used to Rick Ross touched projects to paint but was like Studio 54 upbeat – and “Legendary,” another shockingly mellow jam, you’re completely OK with this album not being the one you passionately rap along to.
You can thank Wale’s improved execution for that. The lyrical content isn’t so heavy-handed. He’s not berating you on how dope he is, he’s casually sliding his resume across the record and letting you decide who’s the best man for the job.
Miguel is incredible on “Lotus Flower Bomb” and even if album is arguably an R&B record at this point but it is so good.
“Chain Music” has a weirdly amateur sounding beat. It sounds like something that guy who can’t afford to get premium production makes himself for a regional hit not a big mainstream release. Reminds me of an early Cash Money era throwaway with some go-go flair on the drums nestled within. “Illest B*tch” is another reach with it’s mailed in chorus and verses over an overdone premise.
You would be hard-pressed to find fault with the Sunday afternoon-ready “Sabotage” which an underrated Lloyd only enhances or the 80s soaked, dance-soul jam “White Linen (Coolin)” with Ne-Yo.
I wish “Slight Work” with Big Sean gave me more but for clubs, it will play.
The title track, “Ambition,” is the record everyone sees the features on and rushes to play but is actually underwhelming. Its vibe is more in line with the project but why not swing for the fences here to re-engage your listeners with something epic? Wale does what he can lyrically but it’s not the MMG posse cut you need from them.
“No Days Off” had the spirit of a Curren$y track but is a solid head-nodder going into one of the best singles this year, “That Way.”
By the time you’re reaching to run this album back from the top, you’ll have consumed a musical meal much lighter than expected but just as fulfilling. Wale deads some of the obscure sports references and street anthems, chills out on what I like to call “credibility” flows rappers have to do on their debuts and the groove he settles into is a dope one.
Fans shouldn’t be deflated by a project cloaked in pop ambitions, since what’s delivered does balance what long-time fans have loved with what should be a natural progression of an artist who wants more than a two or three album run.
No, none of these will be the windows down, let the whole hood know what I’m playing joints people may have blared on the mixtapes, but his poetry is still there. It’s much more tailored and grown up and any sort of extended success has to acknowledge its aspiration and adjust accordingly.
To achieve female-friendly music without making you want to check your man card after over an hour of material isn’t just ambitious, it might just be genius. Didn’t expect to see that going in.