Rod Wave understands the language of pain. The Alamo Records signee bares his heart on every record, rapping and singing personal truths—the good, bad, and melancholy. And there’s a lot of melancholy. Rod is a man of heartfelt jams.
Rod’s biggest record to date, “Heart On Ice,” has over 70 million views on YouTube and peaked at No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100. “Heart been broke so many times I don’t know what to believe,” he sings, the angel-soft vocals made for one of the most gentle rap ballads of 2019. After several years making noise in the underground, the St. Petersburg, Florida rapper caught one, a big one.
The success of a breakout record leaves room for the rapper to break through; to earn their spot underneath the ever-glowing limelight. With the release of his latest album, Pray 4 Love, will Rod Wave continue his crossover? Is he ready to leave the underground and become an American Idol? That’s the question.
In usual 1-Listen fashion, the rules are the same: no skipping, no fast-forwarding, no rewinding, and no stopping. Each song will receive my gut reaction from start to finish. Bring on the feels.
Gentle build-up. Rod has such a sad voice. He’s talking about his childhood, and how there’s no love from people. He’s barely 21, right? I want to hug him, but after the quarantine. The rapping is sharp, and the way he breaks into singing is sleek. Rod Wave is a transformer. I like this soulful production. He sings with the soul of a one-man gospel choir. He could be leading congregations. One song in and I’m ready to buy whatever he’s selling.
2. “To The Moon (fuckdaworld)”
I‘m pretty sure I heard three producer drops to begin this song. Producers are becoming superteams like the 2010 Miami Heat. Love the drop. Rod caught that drop like a touchdown pass thrown by Eli Manning. I understand why people would compare him to Kevin Gates, but they exist in two different realms of southern heartbroken. There’s aggression to Rod that can swiftly turn into empathy. “I think they mad they can’t stop me.” I like the rapping here. There’s a nice bite to every word rapped, and then he morphs into this passionate singer. Rod Wave is like if the song “Soul Survivor” by Akon and Young Jeezy came to life and joined a choir.
3. “Thief In The Night”
Piano intro. These records have been short. Rod is running two-minute drills, but they’re effective. He makes sure to give each record enough. It’s a trait I associate with Kevin Gates. I think Rod’s structure is looser. Sometimes I can’t tell where the verse ends and where the hook begins. It feels like I’m listening to a high-quality ringtone. I can imagine Rod going triple-Platinum if he came up during the Chamillionaire “Ridin Dirty” era of ringtone sales.
4. “Thug Life”
Another record just shy of three minutes. Rod’s singing. His voice is refreshing. It’s like being splashed in the face by a morning shower. Rod Wave’s subject matter doesn’t change much, but he always finds a new way to sell the story. The passion makes you feel for him. Tupac never sang of Thug Life the way Rod does. I don’t know if I’ll come back to this one, but it’s not a skip. I like the execution.
5. “I Remember”
“Pipe that shit up, TNT,” is my favorite producer drop so far. I like this beat. Rod is back, pouring it out. I want to see Justin Bieber sing covers of Rod Wave music. The kid is crossover ready. He sings like he wants to be on the charts for the next four summers, but he’s not writing pop raps. He’s talking about his life. Trauma is the character of Rod Wave’s pop music. Oh, he’s talking about his first stolen car. I like “I Remember” a lot. It’s a little longer, and the extra room is letting him get into his storytelling. Keeper.
6. “Rags2Riches” feat. ATR Son Son
Piano builds up. I love these keys. A thumping drop. The deep bass is rattling my headphones. Rod’s flow is a winner. His flow is too smooth; he raps with a dolphin’s grace. “Rags2Riches” is a keeper. How he transitions from rapping and singing is like watching a Porsche shift gears. “Rags2Riches” is the one you feel in your bones. One of my favorites. Short but effective.
7. “No Weakness”
I like “No Weakness” almost instantly. The production has a nice bounce, and Rod’s melodic flow is perfect. “Somehow I keep losing all my friends.” Yep, here comes the body shots. Rod Wave doesn’t use metaphors or similes; he just gives you the real, the raw. It doesn’t sound ugly, though. It doesn’t sound dark and defeated. He’s always singing over production that shines. He keeps us out of the dark while making the listener feel the shadows of his heart.
Producer tags are the beginning of almost every track. It’s now a texture I can count on to be there. Rod said he’s been getting in touch with reality by staying off his phone. Rona stopped all of that. I like this. It has a nice bounce, and the texture of his voice on the hook is so sweet. “Roaming” feels right. Sheesh, Rod, that’s how you feel? Well, you aren’t the only one. I like the singing on the hook. “Chasing my dreams, ducking the grave” is the thesis of this album. This is good. Real good. Tupac vocal sample! Man, I’ve been thinking about Pac all album. Keeper.
9. “The Greatest”
Soft build-up. I like the pace of Pray 4 Love. “Young nigga from the bottom of the map.” The keys have a churchy vibe. Like we’re about to witness testimony. This is Rod’s show; he doesn’t need a feature. “I bought it, I own it.” He’s feeling every word. Oh, I love this. “Went to school all 12 years just to get a job selling doughnuts.” Damn, respect to my man who sells doughnuts. The world treasures him too. “The Greatest” is good—one of my favorites.
10. “Ribbon In The Sky”
The production has been strong throughout. This string section is a pleasant surprise. “Picture me rollin in my 500 Benz.” I wonder if Rod played a lot of Pac during the making of this album? I don’t know about this one. It’s hard to see what separates “Ribbon In The Sky” from some of the previous tracks. It’s an uplifting tune, but some of these points have been driven home. Maybe not, but on first listen, I’m not in love.
11. “5% Tents”
“Pipe that shit up, TNT.” Alright, I’m getting pulled in. “Now I know the answer if dreams come true staring at the world through my rearview.” Yeah, there’s a lot of Pac sprinkled around. I’m digging it. This verse is full of life. Who hurt Rod Wave? Whoever did it, pay for your crimes. Pay right now. “This life we living kind of fast, yeah” it was fast, Rod, now life is slow. Life is Sunday.
12. “Girl Of My Dream”
So far, I’m not mad at the length of Pray 4 Love. He’s singing this one out. Rod is a romantic. The way he speaks about women is often tender. Do you know what would ring off? A Rod Wave and Wale R&B record. The delivery here is great. He’s going to have panties thrown his way at every concert. After the quarantine, Rod Wave is the first rapper I want to see live.
13. “Dark Cloud”
Pray 4 Love is a cohesive album. The beats and bars blur, like a playlist from Rod Wave’s heart. He takes all the emotions that Young Nudy lacks and sings them with all his heart. Rod Wave and Lil Baby, the leaders of Empath Rap. Better yet, Rod Wave, Lil Baby, and Summer Walker should form a supergroup and drop an album. We’ll be in our feelings until Christmas.
14. “Thug Motivation”
Grand finale. Rod Wave is a likable guy. You can’t help but root for his success. You just want to see him win. “Oh shit, they done let me in the door.” Talk about it, Rod! “This for them who doubted.” This is the happiest he’s sounded all album. I hope this is the direction of what he does next. Life sounds good on “Thug Motivation.”
Final (First Listen) Thoughts on Rod Wave’s Pray 4 Love:
On track thirteen, “Dark Cloud,” Rod Wave is honest about being homesick, backstabbed, and the demons in his heart. “I been feeling pain for so long, I done became numb,” he sings on the refrain, a young man who is going through a stormy period. Pray 4 Love is the soundtrack to the storm. A rapper who survived, but hasn’t forgotten.
There’s a duality to every Rod Wave song. Much like previous his albums, Ghetto Gospel and PTSD, we get equal parts rapping and singing. Both are effective, but their styles are different. When Rod sings, it’s like being lifted. When he raps, that’s when the gravity brings the listener into the real.
Rod keeps it as real as you can while maintaining a radio-ready melody. That’s what makes him a dangerous songwriter; he can rap and sing as Drake did in 2009 but with way more heart.
Rod Wave bares his heart throughout Pray 4 Love. He carries it through the storm, and he makes it sound good. Rap music that’s ready to pop.