People’s inability to understand things in life can often manifest into actions conveying fear or rejection. They avoid the aggressive bully who is secretly insecure about being flatfooted and having acne. People will dismiss or even make fun of the nerdy kid with glasses and a stutter, alienating them in the process.
They get quiet around the aunt who yells but internally craves people willing to listen. Sadly, they might often criticize the cousin with a drinking problem, unaware that he suffers from anxiety and alcohol is the go-to method to ease social situations. The examples of these types of situations go on and on, but one that is worthy of a full-on case study is Olubowale Victor Akintimehin’s career.
Undeniably gifted and creative beyond measure, Wale is one of the most intriguing figures in music. The dichotomy of his public perception over the span of his career is even more of a head-scratcher. Sixth studio album Wow… That’s Crazy is quite literally a 50-minute therapy session where the D.C poet dives into his internal struggles and how music, women, Blackness, confidence, and insecurity consistently intersect one another. For better or worse.
I say 50 though the album clocks in at 54 minutes. This is because I interpret “Poledancer” featuring Megan Thee Stallion being his trip to the strip club to debrief after venting to his psychiatrist. His breath of fresh air and detachment from the haunting reality he faces. No amount of money, hits, women or fans you have can make you love yourself. Yet, sometimes having too much love for yourself can push those things away. You can be doing everything right, and somehow be doing everything wrong.
“Sue Me”, the captivating opener, packs mega church-like production and a gospel choir into a huge-feeling record. As per usual, the 35-year old fits his snappy, conversational flow into the mold effortlessly. It screams triumph, even in his acknowledgment of polygamy problems, industry hate, alcoholism, and mortality. It feels like the opening to a therapy appointment, where a patient freely speaks before their doctor can chime in.
Lines like “I love me some Logan, I love me some Issa/I’ll never get either/Those women are queens, me? I’m a drunk, I’m a demon/Heaven knows I’m a dreamer” show acceptance. Then you have lines like “Polarizin’ the sun, underrated again/Show business will never love you the way you love it/You come and we go, they quick to forget” where it almost feels like he’s defeated. Then the boisterous hook “Sue me, I’m rooting for everybody who black” repeats.
Through it all, he has love for everybody with melanin. Whether they love him, support him, understand him, or not. The hook matches the guy singing it. Though jaded as a result of his own career woes, Wale’s support of others is undeniable.
“Cliché” is anchored by Ari Lennox‘s celestial vocals and a synergetic, standout Boogie verse. Dreamville’s first lady reminds us “Mama told me life’s not fair/So cliche advice right there/The time we wasted, time we lost/So we don’t even try.” Wale is weighed down by his own confusion and inability to work that out with someone else’s emotions in the balance. “I need a woman that’s praying for me but hesitate to call me.”
Boogie follows suit, and throws out the gem “I sit and think about just how the right path could be the wrong direction/But falling back is progress, it’s all about perspective.” *hits blunt*
On the surface the slow burner “Expectations” sounds like your typical love song, highlighted by an intoxicating 6LACK opening (!) verse and hook. In peeling back the layers, you discover the core is about how self-love can influence the romance. bear’s endearing croak adds a somber tone as he tries to figure out what’s going wrong. “I’m in the paint, tryna be Rondo/Of course you got the answers, ’cause you ain’t the one that’s in my position”.
Wale goes back and forth between his uptempo bars and melodic ballads. His first verse tackles his own grief and how it drives his behavior. He smokes to escape when in reality he wants to just be. “Pray all my odds be even ’cause it get hard/And I follow what I feel, but that’s the issue/My thoughts can be deceivin’ if they get a warm welcome”.
His second verse addresses his woman and her self-worth. “Summer approachin’, she look in the mirror, she wish it was winter/Her tummy is pokin’/Lookin’ at Instagram, makin’ you sick/Yeah, the figure you’re fishin’ for ain’t in the ocean, no/Your potential is more than gold/Expectations is bogus though.” Rapping the phrase “body dysmorphia” in a sensible manner where it is vividly illustrated should lowkey already put him among the greats.
He clarifies that he is willing to assist her financially in transforming into how she wants to look. As long as it is what she truly wants and not how she wants to look for other people, even him. It’s a sensitive topic to broach in normal conversation, yet through song he makes it feel much more pleasant.
Following the whole therapy session timeline, the midpoint “Routine” feels like he’s been talking to the therapist for a while, opened up, had a chance to hear some thoughts and now he’s retorting with arrogance. Depending on what streaming platform you listened to, you were met with the pleasant surprise of Maybach Music Group buddies Meek Mill and Rick Ross appearing on this record.
This track should have been left off and saved for the inevitable MMG mixtape (*crosses fingers*). That is if the album was intended to be perfect. However, its addition is as spontaneous as Wale is, thus appropriate. It is easily his most confident cut on the album. “Reuniting” with two of his best collaborators adds the feel-good element. Ross executive produced a few records on the album as well, so you know it’s real.
The trap jam ends, and it’s back to life. “Love Me Nina / Semiautomatic” transitions from a back and forth with the late Nina Simone about black pride. The next half sees Wale assume the role of a weapon. In order to fully grasp the extended metaphor’s intricacies, you have to hear the verse while reading the lyrics.
Over the piano keys, he goes from saying he misses the mark as an artist to having trouble finding the right target. In the end, Wale is always on the defensive so he can’t ever really figure out what to do next in his pursuit of “rightness”. The way he weaves it all together is masterful.
The Lil Durk-assisted “Break My Heart (My Fault)” is a respectable coin flip of the earlier “Love… (Her Fault)” featuring Bryson Tiller. Wale steps into both pairs of shoes in a failing relationship in two songs. In a place of power, he accepts accountability and the consequences of mistreating her. In a place of vulnerability, he counts his losses and craves closure.
There’s no cookie-cutter blame game here. It’s the exact type of conversation one would have with an objective third party. A trained professional always tries to make you see and feel the other side. These two songs represent all 360 degrees of experiencing a ruined love. Wale doesn’t run away from feeling any of it.
Pink Sweat$ complements Folarin on “50 In Da Safe”, a half flex, half cry for help. The Philly crooner oozes bravado and slight paranoia all through the hook. “I put 50 in the safe/Speedin’ off in a Wraith/Had a dream that I was safe/But we know it ain’t never safe outside/No, I can’t stand for the hate/What, you mad we took your chick?/Took her down to the track/She ain’t never comin’ back”
From there, he plummets into his own web of personal issues. “I keep losing pieces of my mind/This emotion, I get faded all the time.” The “On Chill” artist continuously lists his vices and methods of maintaining his mental wellbeing. Sativa, oxy, alcohol, money. “Know what’s crazy? I’m tired of makin’ music but how my anxiety set up, my therapist get my show money”. If that isn’t a very telling line, then words mean nothing.
The album works because it doesn’t work. It makes sense because it doesn’t make sense. It is the most perfect form of expression because it expresses imperfection in a transparent manner. If you come seeking someone wholly good or undeniably bad, it may be difficult to connect to this content. If this is the last we are to hear from Wale, then it’s a punctual ending.
He reiterates his extraordinary knack for lyricism, beat selection, melodies, and selecting features so we can never question his mettle. He will always deliver good music at minimum, but the messages are the real treat. Wale relays the truths of his life so we can never doubt his authenticity. More than anything, Wale basks in the good, the bad, and everything in between. You can feel it in the sequencing as he goes back and forth between high energy and low tempo records.
If we aren’t living and learning through the experiences thrown our way, we miss out on a valuable lesson to apply to the next one. It’s easy to run away or ridicule. It’s difficult to embrace differences and reveal things about ourselves we may not want to see. Wale could very well be everything people would like to be, but simultaneously everything they hate about themselves. Wow…that’s crazy. See you next week?