Wale – Shine (Album Review)
A Slightly Less Focused Yet Streamlined Affair
The surprise album drop is nothing new in Hip-Hop. In fact, we just had a huge one in Kendrick Lamar’s Damn not even two weeks ago. So when DMV rapper, Wale announced that his 5th LP, Shine would be hitting streaming services a week earlier than expected, the only surprise was that we believed the initial release date in the first place. Wale has always operated in a strange space in Hip-Hop. Once heralded as one of the “Gangsta Killers” alongside Drake and Kid Cudi, he never fully embraced the moniker. Keeping one foot firmly in gangsterdom while also being seen as something of a pseudo-backpacker. He’s always been right on the periphery of super-stardom, but not quite enough of either package to really breakout. Even stranger when compared to his timeline peer, Drake, as Aubrey tends to occupy a similar space but has tapped into something musically that Wale never has. So on Shine, it seems like Wale has made some peace with his position, “doing him” in a more whimsical way that he did on say, The Album About Nothing. Clearly going for some sort of mass appeal, but not really caring if he gets it or not. The album takes a couple swerves but never has anything that feels out of place.
Shine has Wale performing a conceptual balancing act. With one track having him play devoted family man, followed by typical machismo trappings. It would be enough to give you whiplash if it weren’t already so prevalent in Hip-Hop to begin with. You could say that the sequencing of such tracks is intentional, but the seeming lack in coherence only really works if because there was nothing put into it. Yet another “playlist” put out by an established artist who doesn’t want to commit to an album, full stop.
I’m still on the fence on this “trend” as it is. Wale has always been an album artist. Almost lucking into his biggest singles in spite of himself. Shine is really no different, yet it’s Wale’s more obvious attempt at premeditated popularity. The laissez faire attitude doesn’t work as well when songs like “My PYT” and “Running Back” are so not Wale tracks. I will say, this latest run of Lil’ Wayne features is something to behold. Not condoning stifling of art, but Baby may have been on to something by stopped Wayne from dropping 15 tracks a week.
Your mileage may vary on Shine. Longtime Wale fans will definitely find something worthwhile on the album. His usual charm is still there, with a little less of the holier than thou attitude he can sometimes slip into. Wale is still the other dude, but he’s been around long enough to have one foot firmly in the establishment. Newer fans, if he’s still gaining them, likely won’t know what to make of Shine if they choose to visit his earlier albums. Half of it is quite the departure, while the other half is natural progression. On its own, Wale put together an amorphous album that’s somehow personal, yet devoid of ownership. As if he’d only half dipped his branding stamp before limply placing it down on the cover.