Who the Hell Am I: The Undeniably Frustrating Career Of Wale

blame it on Andreas Hale December 13, 2013

Words by Andreas Hale.

I’m going out on a limb here but I think that Wale is frustrated. If his phone call to Complex was any indication, I’ve hit the nail on the head. Right?

But not only is he frustrated with Complex — who seems to have caught the bad end of his frustrations – Wale is frustrated with the entirety of his career.

And the thing is, I totally understand where he is coming from.

This isn’t an indictment of the Complex Top 50 Albums Of 2013 list, or any of the others that left Wale’s The Gifted off (Rolling Stone and SPIN). Instead, this is about Wale and the perception that he’s been getting the shaft his entire career.

Let’s be honest, lists are the dumbest smartest thing ever. They are completely subjective but people like numbers and rankings so they gravitate towards them and treat it like the gospel. So Wale’s outburst (and threat to knock out an entire office) wasn’t so much about the list as it was everything that has led to this point.

But if it is about the list, then let’s get that out of the way.

Wale’s The Gifted was met with mostly positive reviews from critics. Of course, some felt the album was a tad safe and lacked the sense of humor from his mixtape days. Nevertheless, the bridge project between the Ambition Wale and the Attention Deficit Wale seemed to have yielded some solid ratings from both fans and critics while debuting at #1 on the Billboard 200. It’s safe to say that Wale thought that his album was a shoe in for these year-end lists.

Then the year-end lists came out.

Spin, Rolling Stone and Complex all left him off the list. As a person who values his craft, Wale has a right to be miffed by the omission. But something tells me that it is what made the list in his place that drew the ire from the DMV rapper. Obviously, it wasn’t the pop or alt-rock albums that bothered him. It was his rapping peers who took his place.

Migos’ Young Rich Niggas made both SPIN and Complex’s lists.

I’m just going to leave that there for a moment.

Just my opinion, but Wale > Migos.

There are a few other artists on these lists that I disagree with being placed over Wale but, again, these lists are subjective and are meant to drum up debates. Unfortunately, artists see these lists as an opportunity to gain a few more fans who would have otherwise passed up on their music. And that part is true. I often scour lists for albums I may have overlooked only to double back and make the purchase.

But for Wale, it was a little bit more than that for him. It’s not just a list; it’s the validation that he’s been seeking ever since he inked his deal with Interscope Records back in 2008.

When he dropped Attention Deficit back in 2009, the critical acclaim was there but the album was a travesty commercially (it still hasn’t sold over 200,000 copies). A lot of introspection and substance littered a seemingly schizophrenic album but it was plagued by a lousy choice for a single (the Lada Gaga featured “Chillin”) and didn’t appeal to the masses in the manner that he thought it would.

In Wale’s eyes (this is important), he was penalized for making an album that was full of thoughtful songs that tackled issues ranging from suicide to being color struck while avoiding frivolous concepts. As a result, the album tanked and Wale had to figure out a way to remain relevant so his music could breathe.

Wale’s move to Rick Ross’ Maybach Music Group was certainly an eyebrow raiser. Some criticized the move figuring that Wale had sold out. On the surface, Wale was far different in style than Rick Ross but people forget that the same guy who made “Shades” and “Diary” had released club ready anthems such as “”Dig Dug (Shake It)” and “Nike Boots” and was capable of being commercially viable. “No Hands” was the proof that Wale could transition from an internet rapper to being mainstream and hearing his music echo off the walls of nightclubs and seedy strip clubs across the country.

Ambition released in 2011, much to the chagrin to his fans from the mixtape days who felt the rapper was alienating them. It was clearly a step in another direction as the substance gave way to more commercially acceptable songs (read: dumbed down). Less ambitious creatively than his debut, Wale’s sophomore album pushed more copies in its first week (162,000) than Attention Deficit sold in two years. But people still weren’t happy with Wale.


His core fans wouldn’t forgive him for the move to MMG and despised that he sacrificed the thoughtfulness of Attention Deficit and Mixtape About Nothing for a more standardized approach. So, again, even though he felt like he won, he really didn’t win.

One scathing interview from the Washington City Paper titled “#WaleFlail” lambasted the rapper for his choice in musical direction.

“But there’s more to ambition than sheer perseverance, and on his new album, Wale rarely strives to exceed his previous accomplishments or correct his past errors.

Instead, he treads water, waiting for an audience to form in the puddles.

But almost as quickly as Wale establishes this sound, he lets it go, and the record melts into the type of nondescript hit-chasing goo that so many major-label rap albums splash around in.

“Success is just a process,” Wale posits on “Legendary.” If that’s true, then his recent surge of popularity can be attributed to nothing more than a formula. He’s gone through the motions, gotten the right co-signatures, landed the right guest appearances, made himself scarce when necessary, and floated his name along for precisely the right amount of time it takes to matter.”


For a guy who landed on the pages of GQ Magazine’s 2009 Man of the Year edition alongside Kid Cudi and Drake, expectations are beyond the norm of an average rapper. He moves a few units, but is still not accepted both critically and commercially. It also doesn’t help that some just can’t vibe with his personality that has been called arrogant amongst other things. Nevertheless, he has been one of the most criticized, scrutinized and polarizing artists in hip hop. Defined by many to be an underachiever. There’s nothing worse than having the potential and not living up to it.

So, to rail against those claims, Wale attempted to bring both worlds together on The Gifted. It was a solid album but still not the album that people believe that Wale can put together. Some have given up hope altogether while others have accepted it and figure that this is still better than most of the nonsense clogging the industry’s pipelines.

But that validation was swiped aside by one year-end list after another.  And Wale has no idea how this keeps happening to him. He’s tried everything to appease his fans and critics. Hell, he came back from the industry graveyard and capitalized on a second chance to make a first impression when he signed with MMG. He has more fans than many of those artists on those lists and his album has been rated higher as well. Yet, here he is still not getting that sign off that says “yeah, you did what you were supposed to do and we recognize it.”

And it’s not one list, or one review, it’s the totality of it all that caused Wale to hulk up and explode with claims that Complex has some kind of bias against him, along with the totally uncool physical threats. But it isn’t Complex that Wale believes has a bias against him, it’s the industry. Somebody, somewhere for some reason has it out for Wale.  At least, that’s what I think he believes. Why else would Migos and Juicy J make the list for best album of 2013 and he didn’t? Why else did Interscope under ship Attention Deficit and watch it flop around like a fish out of water? Why?

It’s a lot tougher to have potential that you seemingly fail to live up to than to have no potential at all. Nobody heard Migos and said that they should be one of the GQ Men of The Year without an album coming out. There are no expectations for seemingly lesser talented artists who (surprisingly, IMO) make the list. But when you’ve been pegged with ginormous expectations for the past half-decade and think that you have finally gotten a grip on what works only to have it slip away, you’d be upset too.

Wale has a right to be frustrated. His career, despite the success it has granted him, has been one frustrating roller coaster ride that he isn’t getting off of any time soon.

Just don’t go around threatening to score knockouts on an entire staff because of it.

But I’m just a critic, who the hell am I?