Even during Wale’s brighter days, The Gifted would have been a stretch for a Wale album title. The Sufficient? Sure. The Better Than Average? Possibly. The Fortunate? Definitely. But Gifted? That’s the last word anybody would use to describe a rapper who, since Rick Ross tossed him the Maybach keys in 2011, has mastered the art of boastfully rhyming about working hard in verses seemingly written on cocktail napkins between rounds of golf. Wale famously dumbed things down on his 2011 reboot Ambition, a snappy record that made the most of his new label’s deep pockets, yet for as much as his old fans groaned, even that record showed occasional flashes of the deep-thinker of yore. The Gifted, however, marks Wale’s true moment of no return. Whatever survived of the brain behind Mixtape About Nothing has been permanently atrophied by luxury and laziness.
At least the crisp, live-band production, a carryover from Ambition, remains a treat. “LoveHate Thing” kicks off a respectable stretch of strutting, ’70s-soul throwbacks, and the standout “Gullible” offers the inspired pairing of Cee-Lo and The Dap-Kings. But the misfires begin to pile up quickly over The Gifted’s lumbering, 70-minute run. “Vanity” builds to an interpolation of Tears For Fears’ “Mad World” heavy-handed enough to make will.i.am roll his eyes, and the oafish club track “Clappers” would clear any dance floor it came in contact with. Tucked at the end of the album, there’s a telling interlude where Wale comes face to face with Jerry Seinfeld, the inspiration behind his breakthrough release, and doesn’t know what to do with him. The comedian is ready to get to work on Wale’s long-rumored Album About Nothing—“I’m here,” he presses, “I came to do it. I’m ready to do it now.”—but the rapper sheepishly explains he brought Seinfeld to the studio just to see if he could. “This isn’t the Album About Nothing, this is The Gifted session,” he tells his peeved idol, who responds, “All right, then I guess I’ll come back,” in a tone that suggests he probably won’t bother. The Wale he was looking for doesn’t exist anymore.