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Rod Wave | Nostalgia Album Review

Rod Wave is a sad dude whose notes app is likely quite a depressing read. Although he’s the source of memes and jokes online, with people poking fun at his music by labeling him as “Adele for thugs,” Wave is a leading pioneer in the Soul-Trap music that he’s been making ever since 2017. Sure, these jokes are pretty funny, but he consistently pours his heart out through his angelic falsetto voice. The result is some genuinely gut-wrenching music. It would be more accurate to label him as a Blues/Soul artist than a rapper. 

The instrumentals he’s backed by blend into each other without any varying qualities. His soulful reflections over Trap beats laced with booming 808s accompanied by either a twinkling piano loop or a drawling guitar riff, is a contrast that works because of the depths of his lyrics. Listening to Rod Wave’s music can sometimes feel like you’re a fly on the wall of an intimate therapy session or overhearing an open conversation between best friends in public. Wave wants to be heard, and it’s clear that the mic doubles as his therapist. 

In 2019, Wave broke onto the scene with “Heart On Ice” –– crooning about his countless heartbreaks and emotional tendencies, he vowed to give his heart a break after being audibly fed up with the emotional pain and misery. Four years and six projects later, Rod Wave is still working through his most recent tribulations. His latest album, Nostalgia, which is reportedly on pace to debut at No.1 on the Billboard 200 chart,  is a testament to his increasingly relatable music, and the unique space he occupies within the Hip Hop realm.

Although the ultimate objective of Rod Wave’s music – unapologetic self-expression and a means of connecting with his listeners – is nothing new, it’s the combination of his execution, authenticity and deeply introspective lyrics that make his movement so powerful. In a time where people crave authenticity and relatability more than ever, Rod Wave is delivering without cynicism.

You know what to expect from a Rod Wave album in the sonics department, but it’s the depths of his feelings that continue to get more and more daring – like on “Come See Me,” when he reveals that he got so high last night that he nearly jumped out of the window. 

There’s outright gospel music present across Nostalgia, like on “Long Journey,” where he reminisces on his come-up and reflects on his experiences as a teen growing up in St. Petersburg, Florida. When he outwardly credits his faith in God with getting him this far, it calls to the fact that Rod Wave makes it seem as though he was never supposed to make it. Based on his circumstances and upbringing, the odds were always statistically against him, and now he uses his platform to serve as motivation. Although there are hints of hope across Nostalgia, like there were on last year’s Beautiful Mind, it feels as though he might finally be coming to terms with the way he deals with his feelings.

Although Rod Wave is effective at creating moments and touching people through his lyrics, his projects often suffer from a lack of diversity and a long run-time. Nostalgia follows an identical formula to the rest of Wave’s discography. There’s some empty crooning and bland tracks like “Crazy,” where he outright fails to expand on his feelings of being an outsider. Songs like “Checkmate” lack the crucial details that can make or break his songwriting, while his mundane delivery on the hook of the 21 Savage-assisted “Turks & Caicos” expose the simplicity of some of his problems –  when he acts on lust, he loses himself and spirals. When he commits to love, like on “Love For A Thug,” singing that he’d trade the Percocets that he’s popping for a hug, it feels like there’s light at the end of the tunnel.

At times, the production across Nostalgia can be stale – the consistent inclusion of soft piano melodies matched with the sped-up drum patterns, which have become synonymous with Wave’s music, is predictable. The soulful vocal samples and orchestral background vocals (on tracks like “Long Journey”) give the project a sophisticated and cinematic feel that brings out the depths of his lyricism. However, at times it provides his sound with an overly-polished aesthetic that can take away from his candidness.

Wave uses “Boyz Don’t Cry” to directly address the memes – “Get on the internet and see people laughing about my depression.” Despite sharing his struggles and using his platform to deliver relatable expression, he’s speaking to the lack of empathy and quick urge to ridicule those who express themselves so frankly, especially when it’s a successful Black man. In a world where toxic masculinity and the stigma surrounding men’s mental health continues to run rampant, an artist like Rod Wave is essential in the sense that he provides remorseless articulations.

“Keep It G” finds Wave still feeling the need to flex his gangster persona and connection to the streets amidst all of his tribulations. In the process though, he’s actively redefining what it means to be “keep it gangsta.” Being in tune with your emotions and being confident in your platform to express yourself is as manly as it gets.

Sadie Jean’s sampled appearance on the outro “2018” elevates Wave’s storytelling by enforcing his songwriting over the drumless beat. It showcases a glimpse of what Rod Wave could deliver as a mainstay pop name, and it might be time to allow him this space – regardless of how humorous it may be to engage with his online perception.

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