If you’re a rap fan for long enough, you’re going to eventually see one of your favorites make dad rap. This hyper-specific micro-genre is built on overwhelming fatherly pride, chart-chasing accessibility, and characterized by the pursuit to give your children the world. Modern members of this specific canon include Magna Carta Holy Grail, The Life of Pablo, Coloring Book, and 4 Your Eyez Only. The latest entry is Wale’s fifth studio album, Shine.
As a Wale album, Shine doesn’t work. As a Wale playlist, Shine soars. There is no overarching theme that grounds the album, but there is a simple thesis statement. It comes in the form of a throwaway braggadocious line on the soulful album opener “Thank God.” On that intro, Wale raps, “I’m trying to get my daughter five McLaren.” For those who don’t know—I didn’t—McLarens aren’t regular people expensive. They’re rapper rich expensive, like minimum $275,000 expensive. If that’s the goal, it’s no wonder Shine is Wale’s most musically ambitious album to date. The album seeks to fit Folarin’s multiple personalities—the sports-obsessed lyrical wunderkind, the R&B adept wordsmith, MMG’s Kyrie Irving, and the behind-the-scenes pop ghostwriter—into a project that clocks in at 55 minutes. It works a little over fifty percent of the time.
The best tracks on the album, “Running Back,” “My Love,” “Heaven on Earth,” and “Smile,” all follow a similar format. Whether by osmosis, in-depth training, or sheer luck, Wale has taken on the best traits of his label boss Rick Ross. And in Ross-tian fashion, Wale is now adept at (no pun intended) letting his featured artists shine.
The DJ Spinz-produced alien bounce of “Running Back,” is the album’s first flex. For some reason football players make great rappers—Young Thug, Quavo, Ross, Plies (not an amazing rapper, but an entertaining one)—and “Running Back” makes the case for the extended football metaphor as well. The song is worth the price of admission for the stellar Lil Wayne verse alone. Wale and Lil Wayne were a match made in heaven nine years ago on “Nike Boots (Remix),” and the chemistry, improbably, is still there. The track succeeds because it champions a universal ideal of humanity: balling on your haters.
That the song is counterbalanced a track later by the Major Lazer-, WizKid-, and Dua Lipa-featuring “My Love” is no coincidence. If “Running Back” is typical rap radio fare, “My Love” is aiming for song of the summer status. Wale’s Nigerian roots allow him to complement the Nigerian-born WizKid in a way rappers like Drake cannot. In a season where Afropop and tropical vibes have invaded the charts, “My Love” slots somewhere in between the laidback vibes of Calvin Harris’s “Slide,” and the star-studded sugar rush of DJ Khaled’s “I’m the One.”
Shine’s first big misstep arrives on “Colombia Heights (Te Llamo),” featuring J Balvin. On the list of things I’d want from a Wale album, him awkwardly speaking Spanish is close to the very bottom.That feeling is only exasperated when J Balvin, who speaks Spanish, arrives on the second verse. I failed all of my high school Spanish classes, but I can still tell that J Balvin murders the track. “CC White” then continues to document Wale sounding out of place on his own album. Remember when Wale transitioned to MMG and was figuring out whether he was the Seinfeld-loving blog darling or would hew closer to the street, rinse, and repeat ethos of his new label? “CC White” falls squarely into the camp of songs you would have thought were written for Ross or Meek. Shine doesn’t fully regain its footing until “Heaven on Earth,” with Chris Brown. For all of the different flavors Wale introduces to the listener's palette over the course of the album, R&B is still the world where he clearly excels the most.
The album fittingly ends on the upbeat “Smile.” When Wale sings “So I give God the glory, Cause I have my child” it puts the preceding thirteen tracks into perspective. During an interview with The Breakfast Club, when asked about his daughter Zyla, Wale said, “This is my greatest creation. I’ll never create anything better than this.” Despite some missteps, Wale seems at peace on Shine. It is an album that isn’t bogged down by the conceptual grandiosity or greatest rapper alive pursuits of The Gifted or The Album About Nothing.
On the day Shine was released, I FaceTimed my best friend, a born-and-bred DMV resident and Wale-is-the-best-rapper-alive truther, for his opinion. As we argued Wale album rankings he suddenly exclaimed, “Wait, I have to show you something.” He proceeded to start singing “The Wheels on the Bus” as my two-year-old goddaughter started singing along and doing choreography that would make Beyonce proud. It was a beautiful, spontaneous moment of joy between father and daughter. Through a phone, I could feel his pride. “Look at how smart she is,” he said. It reiterated why albums like Shine matter, and ranking albums don’t.
Shine isn’t Wale’s greatest album, but it doesn’t need to be. Sometimes perfection isn’t the point, celebrating your greatest creation is.