Wale is in a really good mood.
In fact, the D.C. native is so excited, he's practically doing the internet equivalent of shouting from the rooftops — no f**ks given — and the best part is, the neighbors don't even mind. Nope, not this time.
That type of feel-good energy is not only infectious, but it's littered throughout his fifth studio album, SHINE. In fact, Wale himself couldn't even contain his excitement; he chose to push up the project's release by a whole week, making the bold announcement for fans during an exclusive preview of the project with Genius, much to to the eye-opening surprise of his label, Atlantic Records. Some way, somehow, stars aligned, emails were sent, assumingly no one was fired and the project dropped. He was sick of waiting. It was time. Luckily, in Wale's words, all went well, with the project officially arriving on Friday (April 28).
The 14-track collection of tracks has since been met with praise from the likes of Lil Wayne, Fabolous, Rick Ross, Meek Mill and more, in addition to the unrelenting support from his ever-growing fanbase. In a music climate that is so deadset on pitting rappers against each other — i.e. the internet recently egging on Drake to beef with Kendrick Lamar — seeing such outward support is not only refreshing, it feels genuine. The reason why is simple: Wale is someone we all want to see win.
The recording artist has not always embraced the sky being this blue and the future so bright and has frequently keep it increasingly 100 with his fans. He even took to social media earlier this year to air his frustrations about the "fake" music industry and to admit he was entertaining the idea of quitting once and for all. While his unfiltered commentary was grim, pointing out how negatives always seem to garner more attention than the positives and how the industry will "kill you and then worship you when you're gone," somewhere along the way, Wale changed his mind. He's still here and his album is not only getting airplay, but it’s evident the project’s creator is really proud of this one.
With Wale finally enjoying the fruits of his labor a year and a half after the album was first announced, it's indisputable that every billboard advertisement, every stream, every purchase, has been earned. From releasing an onslaught of mixtapes in the late-2000s to his 2009 major label debut, Attention Deficit, to calling Maybach Music Group home two years later to achieving his first No. 1 debut with 2013's The Gifted to releasing a Seinfeld-inspired mixtape, a consistent theme throughout Wale's music has been him looking to find himself and constantly evolving every time he steps into the studio as a result.
Such a stubborn quest, both as a musician and an individual, paired with heavyweight collaborations ranging from working with the likes of Lady Gaga, Gucci Mane, Bun B, John Mayer, Kid Cudi, Rick Ross and dozens of other artists throughout the past ten years, have resulted in Wale, for lack of a better term, being an absolute wild card musically, and one with a soft spot for go-go music at that. Such versatility and welcomed chaos has resulted in the fact that many fans simply don't know where to place Wale in their mind or in their playlists alike. Somehow, though, he fits. Although it has been far from easy, he's long proven that he's much more than just another rapper, and in that, has been met with mixed reception, all while fighting his way to the top determined to find his footing in the music industry.
Considering he previously stated how he was stabbed in the back, lied to and taken advantage of the entire climb, this album feels as though it was not only released on his terms personally, but was created with him in full control artistically. That alone is enough to make each and every spin feel that much more enjoyable and celebratory.
On SHINE, Wale dances between crafting radio-friendly pop-leaning singles (“MY PYT,” “My Love,” “Running Back”) and using treated vocals to wax poetic over lavish trap beats (“Thank God,” “Columbia Heights (Te Llamo),” “Mathematics,” “Fish N Grits”). There's not a sole direction he's going in on this album, with each track dictating its own vibe reminiscent of a non-committal playlist simultaneously designed for long drives, the club and the summer months ahead. Additionally, the producers he tapped for this project weave between up-and-coming and old school talents, such as Cool & Dre, 808-Ray, Don Cannon, Christian Rich, Mike Dean, Rio and Nez, among others.
With a star-studded array of appearances from the likes of Weezy, Chris Brown, G-Eazy, J Balvin, Travis Scott, Major Lazer, WizKid, Dua Lipa, DaVido, Olamide and Phil Adé, Wale lets each featured guest do what they do best, giving off the feel that when it came time to collaborate, the process was a very open one. Such a pretense results in the strongest collaborations, with Wale playing up to everyone's respective talents and having some fun himself.
While some of the tracks may not take off on the charts the way they are designed to, the hooks are still written in gold and the diverse production is immensely engaging. Such qualities, however, may result in the album disappointing some of his harder-to-please fans, with the main critiques being the scattered direction (and therefore lack of identity) of the project or that Wale sacrificed his indie roots to appease a Top 40 listener. Regardless of those choices, it's without a doubt that the project was executed well. As evidenced on SHINE, despite having spent over a decade to arrive to this very point in his career, Wale will never lose any points for creativity or for experimenting with a plethora of styles.
In fact, it’s beyond commendable that while he has shared he’s tired at this stage in his career, SHINE proves the exact opposite to be true.
Wale also covers singer-rapper ground with his songwriting. Utilizing a wide variety of melodies and stretching the adaptive skill of his veteran pen game, it becomes evident he's been a student of the mainstream perhaps now more than ever. In many ways, one cannot fault Wale for this, but the industry at large. Ironically, much like the artist himself has previously challenged, SHINE poses the question of how an artist can find success in winning over an increasingly disengaged audience accustomed to loosie singles while arguably delivering just that.
Though he's created a project designed for light-hearted listening, Wale is still exposing his heart, and this helps to separate him from the cookie-cutter pack. The passion found within this project is its strongest suit; something that he has proudly attributed to the birth of his baby girl, Zyla Moon, who also makes her official debut on the project's outro, "Smile."
"I wear my heart right on my sleeve in real life and I'm super open wit my feelings," Wale shared back in September 2016, when he first introduced the world to what he now calls "the best thing [he'll] ever create," his daughter.
"I got to do better, I got to make changes..." he continued. "Maybe I lost all my faith in humanity. Maybe I got to work on being happier... I'm gonna fix what gotta be fix one way or another.. I have to DO BETTER. SHINE is what I have to train myself to do .. And God willing I will. If not for me.. For Her.."
Now that SHINE has been set free into the wild, it's safe to say that this album marks a full circle moment for Wale, and as a result, the music is that much better.
After all, what's dope art without the come-up?