Wale’s massive fan base outsizes his commercial value and critical recognition. Nicknamed the Moons, the MMG rapper has an embarrassment of riches in that department. But when it comes to actually converting his 5 million plus Twitter followers and 2 million-odd Instagram supporters into sales, the Moons fall Wale’s hand from time to time.
One of such times was the release of his fifth studio album Shine. The album debuted at #17 selling 25,584 units first week. (streaming + sales). It was streamed 21.7 million times and earned 12,156 pure album units making it Wale’s lowest sales figure since the start of his career. In contrast, his last project, 2015’s The Album About Nothing, topped the Billboard 200 upon its release, while the Ambition and Gifted albums were both certified gold after strong first week sales.
Wale has owned the failure and refuses to shift the blame to his record company Atlantic. According to him:
I didn’t create enough awareness like I should have…. I put it on me, I don’t put it on Atlantic
Watch his full interview below:
While we couldn’t agree more with the MC, especially after listening to him be brave and speak on the flop himself, we feel it is more than just ‘awareness’ that put Shine in this predicament. We highlight 3 other possible reasons below.
Wale may have a sizable fan base but he doesn’t have one that will catch him if he jumps out of the window without a proper run-up and roll-out, like, say, J.Cole’s or Logic’s would do. So when the D.C. native surprised his fans by bumping the release date for Shine up by 1 week, he caught everyone off guard.
According to Wale, he ‘couldn’t wait’ to give the album to the fans after a short time away. But the move backfired because Wale wasn’t able to drum up enough noise to inform the public of the new date during his press tour.
Wale also said that, against his label’s wishes, he decided against releasing the Wizkid-featured “My Love” as a single before the album hit the shelves. That too was a mistake, with its worldly feel, Afropop-lean and quick tempo, the song has the potential to perform well.
The rapper is hedging his bets on “My Love” being a success and eventually uplifting the sales of Shine, but refusing to release it as a single beforehand might have already cost him dear, in terms of label support and album momentum.
2. Poorly-Received Singles
Wale has customarily introduced a new album to the public on the back of a hit single. Again, Wale’s fan base needs a run-up and a roll-out to focus their attention on a new album.
Ambition had “Lotus Flower Bomb”, The Gifted album had “Bad”, both singles went at least platinum. Wale’s album before this, The Album About Nothing, didn’t have a platinum single but it could also be argued that it’s part of the reason why, even with a cosign from one of the biggest names in US comedy Jerry Seinfeld, the album was his first since his debut not to be certified by the RIAA.
Shine did have a moderately successful lead single “My PYT” – the song featured samples from Michael Jackson’s “Pretty Young Thing” and Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing”.
While it peaked at number 54 on the Billboard Hot 100 and earned him a gold plaque, the record was nowhere near as popular as his previous lead singles and was already nearing end-of-life by the time Shine was released last week. The follow-up single “Running Back” featuring Lil Wayne peaked disappointingly at number 100 on the Billboard Hot 100.
3. MMG Is In Decline
Wale’s first album too was a commercial failure – Attention Deficit (2009) moved 28,000 copies in its first week and sold under 200k copies in total. The future wasn’t too bright for Wale at that point and there were strong rumors that his label at the time, Interscope, was about to axe him. So Rick Ross actually saved Wale’s career when he signed him to Maybach Music Group (MMG) in 2011.
The trio of Ross, Wale and Meek Mill formed the strongest crew in rap in the years that followed (alongside Young Money). Unfortunately, things aren’t the same for MMG these days.
The clearest sign of the crew’s collective demise is that the last instalment of their hugely popular collaborative album series Self Made was released 4 years ago. Added to that, Ross has entered into the elder statesman phase of his career where his name and legacy are much bigger than his current music and cultural impact, while Meek Mill’s career has taken a well-documented left turn in the past couple of years.
Furthermore, no other artist on the roster has come close to carrying the baton from Wale, Ross and Meek, which means that now that the top guns need a bit of reheating, there isn’t anyone in the camp that they can stand next to to get it. Interestingly, neither Ross nor Meek featured on Shine and it is unlikely that their presence would have made a difference anyway.
This moment in Wale’s career feels like album 1 all over again, when the rapper’s fans suffered a collective attention deficit and let their favorite rapper down. But, if there’s one thing Wale showed us after his last album flop, it’s that he knows how to make a comeback. So watch this space.