Wale, the DMV's most recognizable rapper, officially aligned himself with Rick Ross' Maybach Music last month, and the move had his core-fanbase wondering how it would impact his music. Wale and Rick Ross isn't a natural combination: Ross constructed a (likely) false persona on cocaine sales and mansions; Wale balances backpack, Okayplayer rhymes (read: "conscious") with exclusive-sneaker name-dropping. Or so I thought. Once Wale jumped on Waka Flocka Flame's mega-hit "No Hands" — with talks of "sweating out weaves" — he proved he could sound at home on swagged-out strip-club hits.
Which brings us to Wale's first single as a Maybach Music artist. "The dilemma is you think I got no conscious / you think I'm just flossin' on Ross s--- about car s---," he raps on the Jadakiss/Ross-assisted "600 Benz," which debuted on New York's Power 105 yesterday. Wale could have a difficult time answering to the fans who love his heavier, "smarter" songs, such as "90210" and "Diary." Is Wale sacrificing his brand of brainy hip-hop for the more accessible, harder-edged rap we've come to expect from Ross? Or is he, as he claims, merely showing another side of himself? ("I just like music. People need to stop trying to put s--- in a box. Not every rapper can be put in a box," Wale recently told RESPECT. magazine).
As someone who hasn't dusted off a Talib Kweli album since high school, Wale 2.0 is much easier to enjoy than the deep-thinker-in-Foamposites or the guy who was "Chillin'" with Lady Gaga or the dude rapping over Justice's "D.A.N.C.E." (I'm also a huge Rick Ross fan, so that helps.) But the pre-Maybach Wale never connected with me, like a poet more in-love with himself (and his words) than his audience. 100 Miles & Running felt too catered to hipsters and Hypebeast. His Mixtape About Nothing is his best work but was overhyped (OK concept, but I'm not a huge "Seinfeld" fan either.) And his debut LP, Attention Deficit, was an all-out bomb, with that horrid Gaga single and just-as-bad beat selection. ("Pretty Girls" is the exception but as Noz pointed out, that was a hit without Wale. Also, Gucci Mane outraps Wale on it.) Deficit's poor sales were a clear wake-up call that Wale needed a makeover.
Is Maybach Music the perfect fit? Maybe not, but Ross is a major player in rap, and his track-record is full of hits, both in the streets and on Billboard. That alone would appeal to any rapper, but especially to Wale, an MC with the tools (decent flow, above-average wordplay) but not the vision to put it all together. Judging from "600 Benz" and his recent verses on Travis Porter's "Make It Rain" and Ross' "Retrosuperfuture II," Wale sounds re-energized, happily rapping about weed, cars and strippers with a noticeable new gusto. While many cry "sell out," I find myself more interested. I doubt I would have given much attention to a new Wale single (let alone a second album), but he's changed my mind, all via a shrewd power-move. It helps that I never had a vested interest in Wale, so I don't feel scorned by his Maybach signing. At this point, the move seems clever, and most importantly, necessary for Wale to get a second chance in a fickle arena.
I'm curious how Baltimore and D.C. feels about Wale's latest moves. Is this the end of Wale infusing D.C.'s go-go sound into his music? Is Wale more concerned with national attention than hometown respect? Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments.