Success is measured by personal metrics and for Wale, it was the quest to be understood and acclaim that mattered – to be hailed as The Best. Being an open book that obsesses about things like that made him an easy target for people to hurl insults at. And it’s his nature to fall into those traps and worry his head off. From an underselling, under promoted debut album to a streak of three No. 1 selling albums. Wale fought the odds, came back strong and it is clear he has done well for himself. But acts like threatening complex magazine for not appearing on their year end list and indulging twitter trolls were the actions of a conflicted man.
Wale’s fourth album, The Album About Nothing wasn’t really about nothing, Wale was confronting and exorcizing his demons in public. Those demons still plagued him for a while after that album, but recent changes and adjustments have seemingly brought him out of the darkness. Drastic reduction in his use of social media (he’s back now), a change of surroundings with his move to Los Angeles that is documented on the breezy Summer on Sunset mixtape, a reconnection with his Nigerian roots and the birth of his daughter last year. All these events create the celebratory feel of his new studio effort, SHiNE.
There’s no central lyrical theme that ties SHiNE together, it’s all about positive vibes. Right off the bat, ‘Thank God’ opens in a celebratory mode, a victory lap of sorts. Wrapped around by warm crackling snares and subdued drums, Rotimi kicks off the praise session in smooth style. Wale joins in with some drowsy singing, before dropping soft bars appreciating his journey thus far and his new inspiration to “give Zyla five McLarens”. Zyla, his daughter has definitely given Wale some perspective and she appears on the final track ‘Smile’ as a muse to Wale’s message.
SHiNE’s celebratory mood is mainly reliant on production mood which pulls from many facets of modern pop music. It’s also a major shift from timed raps to melodic deliveries most of the time. ‘Fine Girl’ uses afro-caribbean aesthetics, with Wale crooning and features a typically crass verse from Davido and a snide bridge by Olamide. The other cut that uses African music as its template is the Diplo produced ‘My Love’ which has potential international hit written all over it. Wale drops a quick melodic verse before wisely ceding control of the song to its production and featured artists. Dua Lipa’s infectious hook and Wizkid’s trademark feature style of swinging his melodies soaks in the song’s production perfectly.
There’s little to turn heads in terms of pure rapping except the impressive personification of cocaine on ‘CC White’. Wale uses his raps to depict the toxic relationship with “the coldest bitch out here”. The snappy percussive ‘Fashion Week’ with G-Eazy throws out some happy-go one-liners. ‘Fish N Grits’ enters the langiud bouncy terrain of its featured guest, Travis Scott and the ominous trappy ‘Mathematics’ is a representation of what dominates mainstream hip-hop in 2017.
SHiNE is Wale at his most accessible and therein also lies its loss. His topical width is small, basing his newfound happiness on his big financial standing and his capacity as a super-lover. There’s little depth to SHiNE, which might be the point of the project. Wale is simply content with finally standing in the sun without overthinking and that seems to be all he needs right now.
Writer’s Rating: 3/5
Words by Dennis (@ayo_dennis)