After 2009’s Attention Deficit, Wale was at a crossroads. Some fans were dismissive of the album because it didn’t sound like “old Wale,” in that it had more of a pop edge to it. Songs such as “Chillin” acted like his version of Cole’s “Work Out.” They weren’t bad songs, but there was just something a bit…off about them. Don’t get me wrong. AD had some deep moments, with songs like “Shades” and the Rihanna flip “Contemplate” being there right alongside “Chillin.” But, overall, it was an ambitious effort that fell flat because it didn’t know where it wanted to go. Not sure where the blame goes, but who cares? Wale himself admits that the project wasn’t his best effort.
Fast forward a year to 2010. I’m in love with La Roux’s first album again and expecting my first child. I wasn’t expecting Wale to drop a new project that year, but when he did, I opened my ears and anticipated something. What I got was a, somehow even better, follow-up project to his classic The Mixtape About Nothing. For those uninitiated, TMAN was a Seinfeld-sampling project that helped introduce the DMV native to the masses.
Now, MAN starts out with Wale delivering a spoken word piece about his growth up to this point and his dealings with becoming who he is. It’s Wale doing spoken word, so there’s nothing I can really say about that. The chill mood is broken up by the boisterous rap section of the track (which, again, discusses AD and more), the Seinfeld sample telling us that Wale is going through it, and “The MC,” a go-go-esque flow song. I love the beat for “The MC” and the fact that Wale seems at home over the beat versus feeling somewhat awkward over some of the production on AD.
“The Soup” puts the jazzy go-go production with a Dilla-esque guitar lick sample and lets Wale continue the flow session. The vocal sample gives us perspective in that people don’t want to give Wale the soup (the credit he feels he deserves), so he’s taking it and not giving it back. The chop of the “No Soup For You” quote makes me smile as well. The metronome line was cool, but feels a bit cliche. But, he picks it up with a double entendre at the end: “No soup for you wack niggas/I’ma get my chowder on,” referring to soup and possibly the late Cartoon Network series that help push what’s become CN to another level.
“The Breeze” is a nice, funky track. The Wiz feature helps keep this one afloat when Wale kind of meanders a bit. “The Friends N Strangers” keeps the vibe up, but switches from a smoker’s anthem into a “trust issues” track. I’ve always liked this track because of the sample and Wale’s ability to put listeners into his mindset. It’s easy to say “oh, we see people doing him dirty.” But, to actually hear/see it displayed this way? You can’t help but be like “damn, bruh. Let’s get that negativity out of here.” The Jerry Seinfeld skit about lovers, friends, and the difficulties of these things helps to hold the track together when the stories switch up.
The Bassheads-produced “The Number Won (Competiton)” deals with more trust issues. This time, Wale speaks on the missed connections with friends (specifically, Kid Cudi) and his woman. Essentially, there’s a lot of bullshit Wale dealt with that’s keeping him from being the greatest. He’s done with it. From here, we get “The Eyes of The Tiger,” a track thats’s pretty much Wale rapping from Tiger Woods’ perspective. I love this track, as I’m a sucker for “lemme tell this story through their eyes” tracks.
“The War” is an atypical “damn girl, let’s stop the BS” track. It’s atypical in the sense that, while the idea of love being war is sometimes overused, he goes into depth about the war. It’s a dangerous thing. Love is dangerous, especially if it’s with someone you’re unsure of if they’re the best person for you. Next, “The Breakup Song” takes the war and talks about the aftermath. The “All I Do” chipmunk sample helps push this track over the edge between good and great for me.
The Baltimore Club-meets-electronica “The Black N Gold” is a partystarter anthem. Who doesn’t want to turn up, get drunk (if you’re into that), and have fun? Wale’s producers have a great ear for samples on this project and this Sam Sparro sample is no exception. It fits the mood, even if the original is more of an “I need you in my life” track versus “let’s have fun and drink our faces off.”
From this, we get a sequel to Wale’s 2008 song “The Manipulation.” Both tracks talk about guys’ intentions: the sex. I’m more of a fan of the sequel than the original because of the presentation of each. Part one is a battle of simps versus emotionless fuckboys. Part two is between the overly artistic dude and the guy who knows what he wants. No games played, just fucking.
“The Posse Cut,” featuring Fat Trel and Black Cobain, was one of the first times I’d heard Trel. He flowed so effortlessly over the beat to the point I’m like “alright, lemme make sure I check him out.” Cobain delivered a solid verse as well, so hats off to Wale for putting together a legitimate posse cut showcasing some of the other DMV talents. I don’t think we need to say much about “No Hands.” It became a phenomenon and I loved to see people twerk to it. Plus, anything with Waka Flocka Flame is great.
“The Trip (Downtown)” takes an interesting take on hookups. Wale’s not even going to ask her name until he goes down on her. Freaky. But, that’s not the only element of the track. Wale’s playing
boyfriend number two fuck buddy number one and is doing something you don’t see as many rappers doing: worrying more about her satisfaction than his own, as he gains satisfaction by making her satisfied. See, that’s a message I can get behind as a dude who loves to…please the ladies.
My own sexual prowess aside, from here we get into “Ambitious Girl.” It’s a bit of a musically bipolar moment. We go from a track where Wale’s tongue fucking the shit out of someone to a track where he wants something deeper than sex. Again, it’s a moment I personally relate to (and I’m sure many others out there do as well). You can’t just get nothing but sex all the time.
Next, we get “The Motivation (B Right).” A less-Afrocentric version of Kendrick’s “Alright,” in some ways. I love this track because of its message. It’s playful in some ways, but the message of “life may suck, but it could be worse so chill out and remember it’ll be alright” is something needed. The next (and final) two tracks, “The Power” and “The Flight,” take us back to “old Wale” again. Bars and percussion-heavy production. I love the go-go-esque flip of “Get Away” on “The Flight,” as its the perfect way to end off this album to me. It’s a strong proclamation: I’m ready to get away from the bullshit, even though I’m at the top of my game again.
The project itself is classic and manages to surpass even TMAN because of the maturity exhibited on it. So how did Wale continue on after putting out one of the best projects he’s ever dropped and one of the best mixtapes of 2010? He began work on Ambition, an album that continued the “I’m in control, I’m in charge” energy exhibited on MAN.