Everybody loves to hate on Wale. It has become the cool thing to indulge in on the hip-hop internets for years now and the D.C. native is prone to emotional outbursts which are essentially softballs for his trolls, allowing them to hit moonshot home runs by means of their shade-filled diss tweets. From his ill-advised presence on generic Rick Ross/MMG trap records to his legendary threats to Complex over their ‘50 Best Albums Of 2013’ list (The Gifted was nowhere to be found), Wale has persevered through many trials and tribulations. But with his latest body of work The Album About Nothing, Wale has attempted to bring his music back to its essence. Building off his 2008 project The Mixtape About Nothing (the tape that gained him initial notoriety), Wale hit the studio with his spiritual advisor Jerry Seinfeld and created an album that provides introspective insights as well as commentary on the ills of present-day society. However, this honorable artistic endeavor doesn’t quite reach the ambition of its creator and, in consequence, the album falls short of its lofty goals.
When first digging into The Album About Nothing, on the surface there is an authentic level of quality that causes one to wonder if Wale is actually going to deliver on his ‘this is a return to form’ promise. The go-go (D.C. funk) inspired intro kicks things off appropriately and it leads into one of the standout tracks on the album “The Helium Balloon”, featuring fine production from DJ Dahi and Sonny Digital. From Wale’s lyrical performance to Seinfeld tying together the song thematically, this effort is perhaps the best representation of what Wale was going for on this project. Other tracks such as the J Cole-featured, racially relevant “The Pessimist” also prove to be compelling because when Wale finds himself in a genuine comfort zone, the results are hard to deny. The DMV representative has always been a dependable lyricist and his fluent DC accent powered flow works wonders when heard over proper production. But despite Wale’s talent and the encouraging subject matter, there are too many moments on The Album About Nothing which either seem forced or simply lack execution.
There is no question that Wale has been in a continuous battle for respect in the world of hip-hop, and there is a substantial amount of soul-searching that plays a prominent role in The Album About Nothing. Yet contradiction arises when Wale calls out rappers for being unoriginal, yet one song later he is exposed by mimicking the trendy sounds which are making waves in the genre. The most prominent example of this is on “The One Time In Houston”, a record which is dripping in the classic leaned out sonic identity of H-Town and while the track isn’t poorly executed, it comes across as a cheap attempt of something Drake would rap over on If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late. This issue of imitation is also noticeable from a production perspective as the amount of sampling/interpolation on the album seems to be a bit excessive. Nevertheless, a few gems unearth themselves from the crate digging, one of which would be SZA’s Musiq Soulchild ‘Just Friends’ inspired appearance on “The Need To Know”. Wale’s passion tends to shine on these R&B influenced records (a crossover he has mastered over the years) and while he is able to effectively disclose personal parts of his life (i.e. “The Matrimony”), the other romantic based tracks are hit or miss.
After finishing The Album About Nothing from front to back, it is fair to say that the project is somewhat of an exhausting journey. Not only due to its sheer length, but based on the fact that Wale is consistently dealing with self-doubt, fear of complacency/letting go of his insecurities, and striving for success while feeling constrained. This album features Wale delving inward for satisfaction, and the fact that he takes his public perception to heart is both a blessing and curse to his music. And while we have to applaud Wale for abandoning the trap sound and sticking with a credible/more fitting sonic direction, The Album About Nothing does not offer a unique or a particularly memorable experience. For an emcee who is seemingly frustrated he is not included in the same top-tier category of his peers, this body of work is not constructed in a way that will earn universal accolades. The fans who have a ‘ride or die’ relationship with Wale as an artist will be pleased with this effort, but the folks who have put his material on the backburner will not be reignited by this album, a project which was meant to spark the magic of his early material. Ultimately, The Album About Nothing will be underwhelming to some and enjoyable to others so in the end, only one thing is for sure: Wale is great at being flawed.
Repeatable: “The Helium Balloon”, “The Pessimist”, “The Matrimony”
Skippable: “The Bloom (AG3)”, “The Body”
More on this story stay tuned!