Redemption is the best word to describe the vision Wale has in mind for his sixth studio album “Wow… That’s Crazy.” The album artwork depicts the D.C. rapper as a portrait that is halfway shredded, inspired by famous graffiti artist Banksy, whose painting “Girl With A Balloon” was partially shredded after it was sold at an auction.
The cover is a mirror image of Wale’s career which, after his rise as one of the core faces of Maybach Music Group, has taken its share of bumps and bruises. After receiving rave reviews following 2008’s “Mixtape About Nothing,” the artist has been wading in a sea of lukewarm releases ever since, frustrating fans and becoming the butt of Internet jokes for years. If that wasn’t enough, Wale became extremely candid on Twitter when describing his mental state while recording his latest project:
I been an open book to y’all on here for better or worse .. I been through so much since my last project … I lost over an M on some legal stuff . I lost friends and almost my sanity . But y’all held this thing together … tonight I release this balloon 🎈 🖼
— Wale (@Wale) October 10, 2019
After a troubling decade that saw his name dragged through the mud more times than he can count, Wale has something to prove. Luckily, your legacy isn’t defined by your fall from grace, but how you rise from the ashes. Post-shred, Banksy’s painting reportedly doubled its value. Wale is hoping that “Wow… That’s Crazy” does much of the same, emerging from his struggles a rejuvenated rapper ready to enter the upper echelons of hip hop once again.
“Wow… That’s Crazy” kicks off with a resounding statement, “Sue Me.” While preaching about the struggles of fame and critiquing the music industry, Wale expresses his undying support for black creatives, chanting “sue me, I’m rooting for everybody that’s black.” The hook is a direct reference to actress Issa Rae’s proclamation for black culture on the red carpet at the 2017 Emmy Awards. This becomes the first of many odes to the African-American experience Wale weaves throughout the album, upholding his personal duty as a black leader.
One of the main gripes I’ve had with Wale’s music up until this point is how he constructs tracks. While it’s undeniable the seasoned lyricist can spit bars, I frequently find his beat selection bland, like covering a roaring bonfire with a wet blanket. This project, however, finds Wale on an improved wavelength of production. Soulful loops are sprinkled throughout the tracklist, giving the album a sound that becomes a living, breathing entity. “Sue Me” features a choir that crescendos into the clouds, lifting the listener into the heavens. “Set You Free” is classic gospel, with Kelly Price delivering a soul-sucking performance. The beats feel meticulously selected to suit Wale’s smooth vocals, marking a considerable improvement from previous efforts.
“Wow… That’s Crazy” follows much of the same formula as its predecessors, but with an introspective twist. Wale spends much of the project delving into the same sort of mental health issues that have plagued the rapper throughout his career, but this occasion feels a lot more personal. “Shoot at whoever, that’s your only defense / Had a job, you was poppin’, now you lonely as s***” he spits on the revealing track “Love Me Nina/Semiautomatic.” Wale may be accomplished, with highly-charted songs and respect from his peers, but he still feels the sting from fan criticism that has followed him like a shadow. “A lot of thoughts and a lot of pain / my ammunition come from all your hate.”
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Wale record without a healthy dose of relationship-centric slow jams. Peering down the tracklist, I was worried that the excessive amount of R&B features would distract from the tale Wale is trying to tell. Who wants to listen to an emotional piece of art if it’s constantly being interrupted? But the extra voices only accentuate the feeling that each moody track possesses without overpowering them. Ari Lennox makes the most of her high-profile appearance on “Cliche.”6lack’s melancholic vibe pairs perfectly with the slow-building melody on “Expectations.” Jeremih pops in for a signature radio-ready hook on “On Chill.”
The project isn’t without its flaws. The album feels slow-plodding at times, with a few tracks that distract from the cohesiveness an elite studio project should possess. But Wale, like most of his career, always seems to rebound and show why he was so highly-regarded in the first place. “Wow… That’s Crazy” is a solid offering, a building block Wale can use as momentum for a late-career renaissance.