"We ain’t supposed to never have nothing/We ain’t supposed to never have shit,” Wale raps on his third LP. The MMG rapper speaks about his come up as if he’s still living that experience. You really can’t fault Wale for that. After his Interscope debut Attention Deficit didn’t impact as expected, the DC rapper became determined to be a legitimate rap star. Two years later, his sophomore effort Ambition found him in a new space that switched his whole style up thanks to Rick Ross’ mentorship. As he continued to progress under Maybach Music Group, Wale got noticeably better and grew into a commercial force in hip-hop. On The Gifted, he aims to take another leap in his career with a demonstration of the genre he calls “New Black Soul.”

Throughout the album, Wale embraces live instrumentation by pulling sounds that explore his eclectic tastes.“LoveHate Thing” combines funky guitars and handclaps, indicative of contemplative soul. Elsewhere, he returns to his D.C. roots, where brass horns and chimes are classic Go-Go. Despite the various influences, the musical experience doesn’t sound forced, and there's room for inspirational tunes like “Heaven’s Afternoon” and “88.” The latter is based off Michael Jordan’s illustrious career and sneaker culture. The Gifted also serves as a platform for some of Wale’s most introspective tracks to date. He takes jabs at the media's sensationalism in “Gullible,” and tackles the subject of Jesus pieces in “Golden Salvation.” While hip-hop has extensively touched on the subject, here, he challenges those who materialize the meaning of Jesus through a unique perspective.

The Gifted takes advantage of Wale's rap Rolodex with all-star appearances from Rihanna, Nicki Minaj and Cee Lo Green. Jerry Seinfeld, who appears on the outro of “Black Heroes,” teases that The Album Of Nothing is actually happening, which excites fans that grew to love Folarin during his mixtape days. He's cited Seinfeld as an inspiration on numerous occasions, so to see the connection come to fruition feels like a victory lap for Wale, who's always seemed to have a chip on his shoulder. Matching his lyrical abilities with polished production and radio-ready hooks, The Gifted sees Wale inching towards hip-hop's upper echelon, while still exhibiting the hunger of a young MC on the rise. “Born to lose, built to win,” he claims on “Heaven’s Afternoon.” Started from that bottom, but now he’s got it.—Eric Diep (@e_diep)