Wale Is Easy To Root For On His Mature New Album, ‘Wow… That’s Crazy’

On his sixth album, Wow… That’s Crazy, Wale taps into the two impulses that have fueled the best of his music for the past ten years: His love for women (especially Black women) and unrelenting need to vent on social issues and how they affect his mental state. In fact, he first began promoting the collection with a trailer billing it as a therapy session in which each of his personas — the tender but impulsive womanizer, the revolutionary free thinker, and the somewhat petulant, sensitive artist — share space on the psychologist’s couch. For better or worse, Wow… That’s Crazy lives up to its billing with a polished presentation that indulges Wale’s most engaging and frustrating qualities.

Wale’s warring impulses have always laid the foundation for his work, from his earliest, Seinfeld-influenced mixtapes to his most recent album, 2017’s Shine. On Shine, Wale embraced a more optimistic outlook, as well as Nigerian roots for an Afropop-influenced outing that found the mercurial rapper waxing philosophical on parenthood, legacy, and aging gracefully after a career spent reacting to every jab and jibe from both rap media and random fans on Twitter. Wow… That’s Crazy picks up on these newfound threads of maturity and expands; now, Wale applies the learned experience and life lessons from Shine to a broader variety of topics, including his relationships with women, mental health, and Black culture in relation to the wider mainstream culture that seems to have turned against it.

In the past, it always seemed a little like Wale chafed at being typecast into the “ladies’ man” category that hits like “Lotus Flower Bomb,” “Bad,” and his verse on Rick Ross’ “Diced Pineapples” boxed him into. While he clearly worked strenuously at his craft, scribing elaborate verses full of polysyllabic rhyme schemes, internet rhymes, and punchlines so clever that his more anthemic singles required multiple playbacks to catch them all, Wale’s most successful records have always been the ones in which he dropped his guard, slowed his flow, and spoke to a specific romanticism. In short, he may have wanted the respect of a Canibus at his most lethal, but earned a more positive reception when he imitated LL Cool J at his most tender.

While on previous records, Wale often devoted a single or two to the ladies and strove to impress the gents with his earnest observations and delirious battle rap, on each subsequent release, he mellowed into the persona that had been chosen for him. Here, though, he goes even further, leaning into that characterization with a full-on embrace of R&B sounds, from the Kelly Price samples that lead off the album and close it on “Sue Me” and “Set You Free,” respectively, to the guest lineup, which not only includes the aforementioned Kelly Price and her musical successor Ari Lennox, but also includes both 6lack and Bryson Tiller, heirs apparent to the crooner/rapper throne currently occupied by onetime Wale rival Drake.

Topics include Black girl magic on “BGM,” which praises and idolizes Black women’s beauty and resilience, defiance of MAGA-centric bigotry on “Love Me Nina/Semiautomatic” and “Routine,” and Wale’s own hypersensitivity to criticism on “50 In Da Safe” featuring Pink Sweats. Of course, the main focus is on Wale’s interpretations of love — from the twisted messages pop culture puts out through imagery in film, music, and television to the ways he struggles to balance the expectations of a popular rapper with the real-life vulnerabilities of a man quickly losing interest in playing the field. On “Love… (Her Fault) with Bryson Tiller,” “On Chill” with Jeremih, and “Break My Heart (My Fault).” The trilogy is effective at conveying Wale’s evolving viewpoint, although Lil Durk’s verse on the latter undermines it somewhat with some regressive observations that would have been better off rejected in favor of his much more poignant chorus work.

Unfortunately, every so often, Wale’s egocentric other does occasionally break in: “Routine” feels slightly out of place with its posse cut posturing and trap-heavy sound after seven tracks of soulful smoothness, while “Black Bonnie” and “Poledancer” land like bonus tracks with their placement at the end of the project and departure from the more mature subject matter — all three are good-to-great, but seem like they were tacked on to the album to provide a nod to the Wale of old, who is far too evolved now to really bother with that kind of filler. He’s at his best on the intro, “Sue Me,” which sums up his philosophy and his newfound carefree attitude toward the criticism that once drove him nuts: “Sue me, l’m rootin’ for everybody that black.” With his new immunity to haters and vulnerability, he’s easy to root for too.

Wow… That’s Crazy is out now via Warner Records. Get it here.

Wale is a Warner Music artist. .