Despite some hiccups along the way, Wale shows a new-found maturity on The Gifted, his third album. It’s his most stylistically virtuous yet, even if it becomes sporadically over-dependent on superfluous cameos from everyone ranging from Nicki Minaj to Jerry Seinfeld. Regardless, the rapper shows a bold approach on The Gifted, which features a number of moments with shocking stylistic risk. One track can resemble a summer breeze in its R&B-studded smoothness, while the next can resemble a cavernous experiment in atmospheric dub. While this can make for a scattered approach in some respects, The Gifted succeeds in most fronts as a step forward for the talented D.C.-based rapper, whose success should continue to grow this year with this eclectic release.
Opener “The Curse of the Gifted” implements stark piano trickles, psychedelic guitar scratches, and a climatic sci-fi ambiance to guide Wale’s personable flow; his voice is hardly a distinctive presence tonally, but the delivery is melodic and nonchalant enough to engross listeners, somewhere between the stoned nonchalance of Snoop and the youthful brashness of J Cole. The bookends of The Gifted are particularly impressive, and starting with “The Curse of the Gifted” that becomes clear. By the time the album closes with the sensual acoustic-glided closer “Bad”, which features the soulful vocals of Tiara Thomas, we are reminded exactly why Wale’s previous album, Ambition, charted at #1 on the Billboard hip-hop charts in late 2011. He can unleash furious hip-hop efforts like “The Curse of the Gifted” and “Heaven’s Afternoon”, and slot them alongside sensual movers like “Bad”. This is in addition to tracks completely out of left field, like the percussive-heavy, cinematic-savvy “Rotation”. The variety within Wale’s sound is addicting, to the point where his releases have a considerable amount of replay value, which is particularly the case with some efforts on The Gift, even if there are some clunkers as well.
Another highlight, “Lovehate Thing” retreats to smoother territory, with smooth R&B claps and smooth vocal stylings courtesy of Sam Dew showing Wale’s new willingness to embrace smoother elements of hip-hop; the gangster elements of his past releases are more reserved, targeted now toward a new embracing of pop music that is still daring enough to support Wale’s idiosyncrasies. His flow on “Lovehate Thing” is fast-paced, in contrast to the luscious overall beat. “Give me love, baby, not enough not enough just to touch, baby,” he raps during the bridge, leading to a sparkling chorus where Dew’s smooth croon coincides with stirring strings and funk guitar stylings. It’s a wonderfully orchestrated track, full of life and vigor. It’s in contrast to the next track “Sunshine”, which touts summery vibes but nothing in the creative sphere of “Lovehate Thing” or “The Curse of the Gifted”. It’s a general summary of the consistency found on The Gifted, where for every two quality tracks there’s mundane filler with an unneeded guest performance.
In terms of successes albeit with questionable production choices, “Heaven’s Afternoon” rides on a joyous Philly soul string sample, and like “The Curse of the Gifted” speaks to the prospect of rising fame. Meek Mill’s cameo seems unnecessary, though; Wale’s furious delivery could have carried this track all on its own, and Meek Mill’s more high-pitched delivery sounds out of place, as does the tinny mixing applied to his voice. Still, “Heaven’s Afternoon” is a solid effort that shows Wale’s strengths in flow and delivery, supplanted by active percussive samples and a stirring string repetition that enjoyably carries on, eventually over a warbling synth-bass. A better use of cameo comes via Cee Lo Green on “Gullible”, where a multitude of polished brass choices and funky guitar additives hand off to his signature falsetto, which is accompanied by a harmonizing gospel choir. It’s a stomping gospel-infused beat style also present on the aptly titled “Golden Salvation”, which isn’t as fleeting as “Gullible” but is memorable nonetheless in its employment of a choir in the beat-making process.
The slick late-night pop musings of “Tired of Dreaming” injects a similar dose of R&B as on “Lovehate Thing”, polished with similar success. The next track, “Rotation”, hammers away at cinematic percussive build-up, intentionally making listeners uncomfortable as they traverse across a stark dub-inspired soundscape. It’s a stellar example of the alternate stylistic terrain that The Gifted travels across, sometimes unpredictable in its flow and direction. Even on the Seinfeld guest track, the mix of humor and fame gloating is evident more than ever. “I just wanna see if I could get you here,” Wale says to Seinfeld, who insists he truly wants to appear on this “album is about nothing.” Wale laughs and corrects him, saying that The Gifted is indeed about “something”, unlike his past releases. It’s an apt descriptor of Wale’s well-deserved confidence surrounding The Gifted, his most matured showing yet.