A statement that I don’t utter as frequently: I miss backpack Wale.
Before his foray into his new venture with Maybach Music Group, Wale cemented a path that distinguished him from his peers in the DC Metro area. He is a linguistic juggernaut, capable of making wit, pop culture, and hip-hop have great moments of unison like mixtapes containing Seinfeld samples and others produced by legendary name-stays, like 9th Wonder. Unfortunately, after signing with MMG, I saw Wale focusing less on the power of his words and more on creating simple overtures to sell his name more so than in the past. And Folarin II continues to prove my sentiments precisely — putting talent aside for commercial appeal hasn’t helped change my opinion, which is most of his projects over the past decade have been mid to okay. With a few highlights under Folarin II, it is another forgettable project that is an easy skip.
If you walked up to me a little over a decade ago, I’d name drop Wale as one of my favorite up-and-coming artists in Hip-Hop. And as he transitioned into his bag with Ambition, the creative wit and wordplay by Wale felt absent, aligning more with what we get to this day in Folarin II. It’s empty calories for the people who need something to weigh down the acidity in their stomachs from asking for food. It’s filler work without anything weighing down, so it’s better to meet it at surface level. Scratching the surface, Wale brings some uniques ideas into the fold, only to come short-sighted with the points he wants to make. It hits harder when the abhorrent relevancy feels shortwinded from others, like J. Cole, Maxo Kream, and Rick Ross, the former of which plays into political parallels.
Having a streamline of consciousness has never plagued Wale, letting himself deliver spurts of genius here and there throughout the past decade — sometimes we hear him take an extra step as an attempt at coddling to his fan base. In “Light Year,” Wale and Rick Ross reflect on humble beginnings and reincarnations, lamenting those they’ve lost in the past and how it invigorates them to proceed in their careers as they pivot into their prime. It holds a true message, despite coming off short. The lack of emotional weight and Rick Ross is dropping a line about Trump still being in his nightmares feels ironically out of place. And it loses me again as Wale slowly treads into boredom, sometimes repeating the same sentiments.
It is more apparent than one thinks, with some songs giving me bars that have me reminiscing and wanting, pre-MMG. One moment, in particular, comes on “Tiffany Nikes,” where Wale does his version of flex raps. It has a steady progression and a solid rhythmic flow, but as he utters the lines: “Rep for the niggas that’s seekin’ some knowledge/Fuck with the queens but ain’t geekin’ about ’em.” In some ways, Wale hasn’t left this zone, and in other ways, he begins to dribble into basicness. And as someone who can pinpoint solid bars within verses, there are few I can highlight, but digging to listen to some key moments may feel like a waste.
Within a triad of decent songs, few deliver as expected and slightly above. “Name Bell Rings” and “Fluctuate” has Wale act on his carnal desires to spit fire bars — over two different beats — “Fluctuate” has a jazzy and more engaging production, and Wale wears his heart on his sleeve, talking about time and maturity. Some moments contain solid beats, but for the most part, it is easily forgettable. Unfortunately, it has come to it, since the last few years have been the same for Wale. “Name Bell Rings” contains many bars that stick, even though the chorus is not as desirable. However, the bars that stuck out on “Name Bell Rings”–“Now I’m on a scеne, pocket full of green/First magazine, I was in Supreme/Y’all was in the bleachers, talking ’bout sneakers,” using a smooth-braggadocio rhythm where he brushes the dirt off his shoulders.
One thing Wale delivered was a coy play at my sense in the song “Down South” with Maxo Kream and Yella Breezy. Unfortunately, Wale and Maxo Kream delivers lackluster verses, while Yella Breezy made me return — partially because he stood out rhythmically, mostly because he sounds like Riff Raff. Folarin II says a lot with so little, and that isn’t speaking positively. It’s a detriment for Wale that he can’t keep a similar remedy for the positives that come about him and featured artists. Most of the songs with features wane on mediocrity, except for singers like Jamie Foxx, Shawn Stockman, and Ant Clemons — they deliver with a simple cadence it transfixes for the short time it runs.
Folarin II was an album that I yearned to contain some quality, but as it has been since The Album About Nothing, Wale has yet to keep the interest high outside his CORE fans. Some of the production is solid in a few moments, but an abundance of non-type-like producers can only keep the sonic consistency high. Folarin II is a simple skip.