Wale’s 5th studio album, Shine, is set to release later this year and will mark his 10th year in the industry. Mainly carving his niche during the fast-paced consumerism of this past decade, the D.C. rapper has showcased an almost Darwinian instinct for remaining marginally relevant. With each release he stretches the confines of his artistry enough to modernize his approach, but unfortunately remains safe and familiar. Remember when he did a sunny collab with the indie band fun.? Refurbish that, mix in a lot of alcohol and fairweather friends, and you get the mixed bag of triumphs and setbacks presented on Summer on Sunset.
Wale watches trends closely but doesn’t create his own. “It’s Too Late” plays like a Drake-reference track written by Quentin Miller, “Publishing Checks” stands as a soulless Young Thug knockoff, while “Paparazzi” veers into Fetty Wap’s lane of strained crooning. Regardless, catchy melodies are sprinkled throughout, making it easier to shrug off the feeling of familiarity. The various unexpected features also do a lot to ground an otherwise self-indulgent exercise in trend-hopping. Cam’ron glides onto to “Bitches Like You” with a clear mission statement: “I told my ol’ bitch I ain’t fucked you since Jodeci,” and a left-field Dogg Pound collab, “Gangsta Boogie,” turns out to be an undeniable highlight complete with a cook-out vibe and a classic bass-heavy west-coast bounce over which legends Kurupt and Daz Dillinger impart insight and cautionary tales as a foil to Wale’s fish-out-of-water perspective.
Despite hailing from the opposite coast, Wale’s music has always played off of the luxurious allure of Hollywood, so his move to L.A., which ties this tape together conceptually, is fitting. The production plays off this change in scenery and fully embraces the summertime vibes. DJ Mustard makes a fleeting appearance to set the tone early on, but standouts like “Gangsta Boogie” are ultimately produced by rising composers such as DJ Chose. Tracks like “Day By the Pool” and “Valeninto” also feature interesting beat-switches. These new-age West Coast sonics, with as many 808s clattering as basslines thudding, always keep the momentum going even if Wale doesn’t do much with the soundscape.
The narrative is centered on Wale’s paper-thin relationships with his “friends” and their predatory use of each other for personal gain. But the tracks themselves fail to live up to the multi-faceted insight promised by the clever skits. When Wale tries to elevate the surface-level tropes through his actual writing, he sounds tone deaf. It’s only when he reels in the tempo and unnecessary overconfidence that somber odes such as “Ms. Moon” are finally allowed room to breath.
But maybe the megalomania is purposeful: Summer on Sunset is carefully constructed promo for Shine. It showcases Wale’s adaptation to a soundscape filled with Lil Uzi Vert’s and Lil Yachty’s, is loosely stitched together by a familiar tale of Tinseltown disillusionment, and could work as the rise before the inevitable fall. When the final skit closes with an almost Shyamalanian twist (a woman Wale slept with leaves a message on his disconnected phone: she’s pregnant) the listener is finally, after 17 tracks, fully engaged — only to be left waiting for the sequel, or, in this case, the main course. Even if the music isn’t exactly memorable, the execution is novel and there’s still hope for the album.