Label: MMG/Warner Brothers
“F*ck fame f*ck money…I’m just tryna be legendary” raps Wale on the track “Legendary” off his second studio album and his first where the songs begin with mmmmmmaybach music. It’s funny because based on the rest of the project in addition to some of his recent career moves you would think that money and fame are among Wale’s highest priorities. Somehow over the course of five years the DMV rapper has gone from the dude saying “If you want that bullsh*t turn the radio on” to the dude on the radio and the irony of his evolution does not go unnoticed on Ambition. With guests such as Lloyd, Ne-Yo and Big Sean as well as production from Diplo, T-Minus and Lex Lugar, Ambition sonically appeals to Wale’s newer audience, the people who know him best as playing robin to Rick Ross’ batman. However hidden beneath the commercial appeal of this album are some lyrical glimpses of the Wale that old fans are familiar with, the Wale that used to hold his own on tracks with cats like Skyzoo. There is no questioning Wale’s ambition with this project, the only question is where does his ambition derive from? Is he ambitious about truly being one of the greats, or is Wale only ambitious about gaining as much fame and wealth as possible?
Before I say anything else about this album I have to get something off my chest. How is “Tats On My Arm” not on this project? That joint is incredibly catchy, easy to cook to, and arguably Wale’s hottest single to date. Somebody f*cked up on that one. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get back to the songs that actually made the cut. Although neither of them are at par with his work on “Tats On My Arm” Rick Ross appears on two songs off Ambition, one being the title track also featuring Meek Mill and the other being “That Way” which was also featured on the MMG completion album that dropped in March. However, Rick Ross’ presence on Ambition goes much deeper than rap, as his influence on Wale’s style and delivery is more than evident throughout the entire project. “No Days Off” includes a very Rick Ross like chorus, and “Chain Music” actually contains a sample of Ross’ voice but no track has The Boss written all over it more than “Miami Nights”. Not only is the song an ode to Ross’ city, not Wale’s (which completely contradicts that “DC Or Nothing” mentality) but “Miami Nights” also contains all of Ross’ signature adlibs and the dude isn’t even featured on the track! All of that aside “Miami Nights” is still a hot song and its glamorous feel successfully displays Wale’s fondness for some of the finer things in life, things that his good buddy Rozay shares a similar affection for. That swag will undoubtedly work as far as obtaining the luxurious things he describes on the track but if Wale is serious about becoming a legend, than he has to do a better job of solidifying his own identity, rather than clinging to Ross’.
The instances where Wale does exhibit some individuality are when he spits about the things that put him on the map in the first place, mainly women and relationships. Wale is able to discuss these topics in a very radio friendly fashion with help from Miguel on “Lotus Flower Bomb” and with assistance from Lloyd on “Sabotage” both of which are billboard top 40 material. Another song that’s just as catchy is “Focused” featuring Kid Cudi. “Focused” is the result of Cudi and Wale squashing their so-called “beef” and fans should be glad they resolved their differences because this joint is one of the better ones on the album.
Lyrically as a whole, Ambition is dope yet confusing. Wale spits above par bars but contradicts himself throughout the project, at times making it hard to really believe him or relate to what he is saying. One minute he spits that he’s “tired of making money” and “on to making history” on “Don’t Hold Your Applause” then the next he is going on and on about the perks of financial success on tracks like “Chain Music” and “Miami Nights” which further validates the question of what is this guy really ambitious about. However, if you disregard whatever Wale’s real motives are, there is a fair amount of clever wordplay to be dissected on this album. Wale spits rhymes more complex than algebra on “Double M Genius” with lines like “One of ‘em b*tches acute the rest of ‘em congruent”. The song “Illest B*tch” also contains an abundance of quality lyrics and the transition from funky synthesizer melodies to smooth piano rifts on the beat help make it one of Ambition’s standout tracks.
Overall Ambition is a solid effort from Wale that includes a number of songs that are easy to listen to, but I can’t help but wonder if this album would have been better if Wale was somewhere other than under the MMG umbrella. Ambition represents why so many people think that Maybach Music is an unnatural fit for Wale, as the label and the luxury it represents clearly has an effect on the artist and the content of his music. Perhaps Wale was still tight about the fact that his first album was critically acclaimed yet did not perform well in the marketplace despite a hit single featuring Lady Gaga. Or maybe he had just grown tired of making music for the hip hop heads and the backpackers. Whatever his reasons may be, this is the route that Wale has chosen to take and while it is sure to bring fame and fortune, the downside is that the MMG image limits Wale’s individual identity. Therefore it remains unclear if this is the path Wale should remain on if he wants the word legend to be associated with his name ten or fifteen years from now.