There are a lot of rappers today who sound like singers. Rod Wave is a singer who sounds like a rapper. I wouldn’t for a second argue that he’s not crooning on “Nostalgia.” There’s nearly an hour of his soulful vocals on this record. Here’s the twist — Wave (born Rodarius Marcell Green) puts a whole lot of thought into both his words and how they sound over his beats. “Can’t get lost in the sauce” is Rod’s sentiment on “Call Your Friends,” and he lives it with every word he speaks. “What’s the point of an Instagram image … when you really got no millions for real?” Wave values authenticity over appearances and that trait is far too rare these days.
Given that “Nostalgia” is the fifth album in an already successful career, Wave also has the ability to call his shots on who he does and doesn’t work with. As a result we really get to hear from him on this project. It’s not about what big name producers he can bring in or big name guests he can book to give his album more clout. As far as I can tell the only major name here is 21 Savage on “Turks & Caicos” unless there’s an uncredited cameo nobody bothered to mention anywhere else.
I think I’ve made it clear that I respect Rod Wave’s work in prior reviews, but my respect continues to grow with songs like “Boyz Don’t Cry.” If there’s one thing that’s more rare than entertainers who value reality over a fake facade, it’s rappers/singers who are willing to show that they are vulnerable human beings. In the United States at least we’ve developed a culture where men are discouraged from showing their emotions, being told from birth that it’s a sign of weakness, and that a man must project strength and masculinity at all times. Wave rejects these tropes even as he speaks directly about how this attitude has fostered depression among men because we’re forced to bottle up our pain inside.
“On a planet of my own, livin’ like an alien
Think it’s safe to say that I’ll never be the same again
Never fall in love again, my heart is on a shelf
My music’s full of pain, but I keep my problems to myself
And I keep my mouth closed ’cause my thoughts sometimes can get too deep
My heart cold, my eyes closed, but I never go to sleep”
“My music’s full of pain, but I keep my problems to myself.” That line hit me so hard I had to quote it a second time. I hope that for anybody who feels that way, Rod Wave’s music reaches through your speakers and helps to heal that pain. I’m serious. I’ve dealt with depression myself and there were times that music was the only thing that saved me from a choice I couldn’t take back. When Rod Wave says he’ll “always be the one to encourage muh’fuckers to chase they dream” on “Pass You By” I know that helped somebody too. He followed his dream and look how it worked out. Who would he be to discourage anyone else from doing the same? Even if you don’t achieve his level of success, you don’t achieve anything by not trying. You have nothing to lose.
I’m honestly a bit stunned by how much of a ray of sunshine Rod Wave is on “Nostalgia.” There is so much negativity in our world right now. We’re closer to a world war than at any point in my lifetime and the consequences now are higher than they’ve ever been. The biosphere human beings need to survive is quickly being destroyed by pollution and emissions that result in ever increasing global warming. Churches should be preaching love and compassion yet their members are openly embracing bigotry in the name of being “anti-woke.” With so many things wrong you couldn’t blame Rod Wave if he was down in the dumps, but even when he gets “lost in my feelings” on “Checkmate” the beat and the lyrics still come out beautiful on the other side.
“Smiling through my pain, dancing in the rain.” That’s Rod Wave y’all. If this is your first time experiencing his tragedy and triumph, don’t let it be your last, because Rodarius Marcell Green has a whole lot to say. I don’t think it matters if you share his religion, skin color, gender or sexual orientation — he speaks to the universal condition of the human heart. He is a transcendent artist who will go far beyond being known as a rapper or a singer. Rod Wave is something special.