There has been this absurd narrative floating around, basically lauding Wale for resurrecting from the dead to release a second studio album. It’s not like the guy completely shat the bed on his debut or anything, it was just an utter commercial failure. In essence, this narrative is propagating the theory that the only hip-hop albums of any value are those with mass commercial appeal.
I’m going to go ahead and ignore this narrative because, first, I don’t see Wale as a hero for trying again after a commercial disappointment. Second, I don’t judge the value of an album by how many copies it sells. Instead, I would like to focus on the end result of Wale’s sophomore album, Ambition, which turns out to be a tight, 15-track album of fantastic hip-hop music. The fact that this album will undoubtedly be a commercial success is outside the scope of this review, but it should be noted that anything Rick Ross touches has turned to gold lately, and outside of Kanye, Ross has a stranglehold on the pulse of hip-hop currently.
While Ambition is not perfect, only about 2-3 hip-hop albums a year even approach perfection. In my opinion, hip-hop albums should be judged on the number of solid to great tracks are present, and exactly how high the highs are of the album. The highs on Ambition go toe-to-toe with any hip-hop album released in 2011. The filler tracks in between are inevitable, and while not inconsequential, weigh less on the album than weak tracks do in any other genre.
Starting slowly, Ambition hits its stride around the fourth track and rarely lets up for the remainder of the album. “Lotus Flower Bomb” could have gone the way of Lil’ Wayne’s “How to Love”, as it is sappy to a degree. Luckily, Wale stays away from singing his own hooks (excellently performed by Miguel on this track), and even threw in the line, “Took you forever to get dressed, I acknowledge your effort”. This line may not seem hilarious in type-written form, but in context it had me audibly chuckling.
“Chain Music” is bound to be one of the club hits of the year. The beat would fit snugly in right after “N***as in Paris” on Watch the Throne, and I foresee a slew of remixes and mixtape samples rolling out in the next six months. “Focused”, featuring Kid Cudi in a nice guest appearance, is another highlight; not overcomplicating what is a solid synth beat. In fact, the understated guest appearances allow Wale to stand on his own merit, while still adding something of value to the album. It’s been awhile since I have seen all the guest appearances on a hip-hop album hitting all the right chords without becoming a distraction. The fact that Rick Ross’s turns on the mic don’t completely overpower Wale on “Ambition” and “That Way”, is a credit to the self-restraint with which Ambition was made.
The only track where Wale feels upstaged is the Diplo-produced track “Slight Work”, but this is excusable because Big Sean’s guest turn is pure gold. I was actually reminded of why I like Big Sean in the first place after his highly disappointing debut album Finally Famous. The work Diplo does on “Slight Work” brought out in Big Sean the smoothness he showed on possibly his best track, “Big Nut Bust”, which although filthy was one of the better tracks of 2010.
The lowlights of the album mostly include the sort of smooth jazz backbeats that seem all too popular in hip-hop right now, a trend that cannot end soon enough. These tracks still feature Wale going hard at the mic though, a charge that unfortunately couldn’t be made against Lil’ Wayne on Tha Carter IV. Overall, the presence of only weak tracks and the extreme highs of a few tracks make this an album not to miss. The paucity of decent hip-hop music lately also makes Ambition an extreme breath of fresh air.
Can’t Miss: “Chain Music”, “Slight Work”, “Ambition”, “Focused”
Can’t Hit: “Double M Genius”, “That Way”