The release cycle of a normal rapper goes as follows: release a single, release a single, do promo for an album, release the album. While we’ve seen this change with the digitization of the music industry and the advent of surprise album drops (thank you Beyoncé), the typical artist dares not stray from this formula. In many ways, however, the D.C.-born rapper Wale is proving himself as not your typical artist.
On Sept. 14, Wale released Free Lunch, his third EP of the year, following It’s Complicated and Self Promotion in March and May, respectively. The most recent EP contains five songs, one more than each of its counterparts. Wale’s output this year has been short bursts of thought in which he gives listeners some of the most honest rapping of his career.
One year ago, Wale was at a crossroads. In April 2017, he released Shine, a full-length project aimed at bringing a more positive sound, but critics were harsh in their reviews. He traded light-hearted bars with longtime friend J. Cole, who essentially told him to stop feeling bad for himself. Then he split from Atlantic Records, his longtime home, in February.
Wale’s label change gave him a new sense of creative liberty, something he remarked on in a June interview with Charlamagne Tha God and DJ Envy.
“I think the topics I’m touching on, I never felt comfortable saying some things in my previous situation. A song like ‘Salary Kaep,’ I probably would’ve gotten a bit of blowback from that,” Wale said.
“Salary Kaep”, a track dedicated to — and featuring sound bites of — Colin Kaepernick, was included on Self Promotion, Wale’s second EP of the year. The tape also features the song “Cassius,” honoring Muhammad Ali, on which he periodically repeats the words “black excellence.”
Wale’s most recent EP carries the kind of quiet confidence, swagger and openness that has always made fans gravitate towards him. He gets feature help on two tracks, one with J. Cole and one with West Coast R&B singer Eric Bellinger. Free Lunch touches on new issues such as his daughter and mental health but keeps those familiar DMV rap references he’s always delivered. Even after mixed reviews on his singing ability on Shine, Wale delivers simple melodies simple to deliver on some heartfelt songs.
At 33, Wale seems to finally be secure in who he is as an artist. If he wants to stray from the typical Maybach Music sound that made him famous, he’ll do it. If he wants to speak out on social issues at the expense of his label security, he’ll do it. If he wants to release three EPs in a year instead of an album, he’ll do it — and do it well.