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The 20 Best Rappers in Their 20s (Right Now)

12. Wale

Age: 28
Label: Maybach Music Group/Atlantic
From: Washington, D.C.
Active Since: 2005
Latest Release: Folarin
Recent Single: "Bad" f/ Tiara Thomas
As much criticism Wale gets for neglecting his “real fans,” it’s painstakingly clear that the 28-year-old rapper is aware of his artistic predicament (check his Twitter if you think otherwise). This is also reflected in his music, with the latest single from his upcoming album The Gifted observing the perceptive frequency of his career, “Love you, then they hate you, then they love you again/Hate you, then they love you, then they hate you again.”

Wale is a mercurial artist. Once resolute with the vibrant themes of “Nike Boots” and “W.A.L.E.D.A.N.C.E.,” as well as an inclination for go-go drums earlier in his career, he has recently become entrenched in a musical approach that draws inspiration from fellow Maybach Music Group luminary, Rick Ross. It’s a stylistic shift that has benefited the D.C. rapper, if not allowed him the freedom to work more comfortably without the calamitous pressures of a major label. Lest we forget, there was a time when he couldn’t move units with the biggest pop star in the world.

Now, mainstream appeal is a foregone conclusion for Wale, which he’s catered toward a female-centric audience (“Lotus Flower Bomb” or “Bad” should ring a bell). It may not be the lane he originally intended to maneuver within, but he’s owned it. Along those lines, Wale’s presence as a formidable guest feature is also evident, with new and old acts alike soliciting his services.

And in his defense, this hasn’t watered down Wale’s prowess on the microphone in the least. In 2012 alone, he gave “Cashin’ Out” a brilliantly poetic makeover, obliterated Big Sean on “Life Should Go On,” and came through in the clutch with the December release of Folarin, not to mention the fact that he took advantage of the limelight with the Self Made compilations. His sophomore album, Ambition, picked up a gold plaque, and his name now meets a certain standard of lyricism and commercial aesthetic not many can replicate.

Wale’s deviant strategy may not be the most pleasant from an outsider’s standpoint (lose one fan, gain two), but the compromise is clearly in the rapper’s favor at the moment. If that’s the case, maybe his actions are simply a self-fulfilling prophecy. “You made me what I am, you made me what I'm not/They gon' love you a little different when you at the top.” Over time, Wale's learned there’s levels to this rap game. If he keeps it up, he just might keep moving up. —Edwin Ortiz

RELATED: Wale's 25 Favorite Rap Albums

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