The crossover LP has been the death knell for many-a-rapper career’s – i.e. Big Daddy Kane’s Taste of Chocolate, Mic Geronimo’s Vendetta, or Q-Tip’s Amplified (and we liked that last one). Fact of the matter is, when artists choose to go against the sound that their original fanbase was built upon, the core feels betrayed, and in turn, abandons them forever. Very rarely are second chances given (i.e. Raekwon’s Only Built For Cuban Links 2); in most cases, the backpack pass is revoked for good. The flip-side to that coin is when said selling-out artist actually blows the fuck up. This, of course, is a much more rare occurrence, but if Jay-Z could successfully make the leap from hood to Hollywood, then of course every other rapper believes that they can do it too.
In the case of Wale, we’ve seen him slowly build a following through a series of well-thought out conceptual mixtapes, as well as on his debut LP, Attention Deficit. In the last year, we’ve seen him make the leap to MMG, headed up by backpack enemy #1, Rick Ross. So how does someone like Wale, who’s usually mentioned in the same breath as Lupe Fiasco or Talib Kweli, fare when he “goes commercial” on his second LP, Ambition?
Let’s start by saying the Wale has always strived for mainstream acceptance; just look at the collaborators on his last LP, which include Lady Gaga, Gucci Mane, Pharrell, and Jazmine Sullivan. Despite this, Attention Deficit had heart, and was a strong debut for Wale, both musically and lyrically, (yet not commercially). Unfortunately, the same can not be said for Ambition.
Ambition attempts to remain in familiar territory at the start, with a couple of Kanye-Touch-The-Sky-esque, celebratory tracks like “Don’t Hold Your Applause”, “Miami Nights”, and “Double M Genius”. The bluesy slur of the DJ Toomp produced “Legendary” will create track-envy for many rappers to freestyle over, while the 80′s rawness of “Slight Work” (prod. Diplo) is pure gold. Unfortunately, the long-awaited, no-beef collabo with Kid Cudi just doesn’t deliver.
That pretty much covers the “good half” of the album, which leaves us with the questionable direction the rest of the LP takes, in the form of R&B tracks and slow jams. The ridiculously soft “Lotus Flower Bomb” (feat. Miguel) is plain embarrassing for soon-to-be-ex-fans of Wale, while “Sabotage” (feat. Lloyd) borderlines on adult-contemporary jazz. It continues with the jiggy-joint, “White Linen (Coolin)” (feat Ne-Yo), while the syrupy “Illest Bitch” lacks an R&B hook, but maintains the genre’s supple, effeminate tendencies.
The album’s strongest track is the MMG posse cut, “Ambition” (feat. Rick Ross and Meek Mill), and is perhaps the only moment on the album that comes off honestly. Unfortunately, this track is buried in the album’s hard-to-stomach second half, and many fans may have given up by that point.
Ambition is yet another case where the a beloved artist alters their style in an attempt to reach a “wider audience”, and fails. The sad fact is, Wale won’t see this as a failure. With a rumored 150,000 copies being sold the first week, in comparison to his last album’s 28,000 copy debut, this is seen as a success, even if only in the short-term. So, while many champagne bottles will pop and many groupies will help suck it down, the only one that lost here is the underground. Thanks for the memories, Mr. Folarin.
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