D.C. rapper Wale is one of the most exciting up-and-comers in hip-hop these days. Running on mixtapes, singles, live shows, word of mouth, and hometown props, he’s managed to assemble a really impressive producer line-up for his highly anticipated major-label debut (out sometime in 2009), garnered a plethora of good press and legitimate hype, and rubbed elbows, performed and toured with some of the biggest figures in hip-hop. Of particular note is his latest mixtape, The Mixtape About Nothing, which has been critically hailed as an effort so focused and so excellent that it transcends the medium itself.
While there’s been a discernible shift for the better in the quality of mixtape-crafting over the past couple years, most are simply used to fill the void between official album releases (which, unfortunately, can be sizable in the hip-hop world) or as hype-creating teasers for upcoming records. Artists don’t typically bank on conceptual quality as the driving force of a mixtape, but instead rely on a widely cast net of prominent recycled beats and tracklists 25+ songs in length. And while there’s no question The Mixtape About Nothing has created a fair amount of hype for Wale’s debut, it opts for predominantly original production (courtesy of Best Kept Secret) and is executed with such cohesion and skill, one might be surprised that it’s a mixtape at all. [I’d like to point out that this refreshing aspect of The Mixtape About Nothing is covered in more depth in an excellent post over at Passion of the Weiss.]
As the cover art and title suggest, Wale’s most recent effort is centered around the theme of Seinfeld; the song titles are formatted just like the show’s episode titles (“The _______”), it’s full of lyrical references, samples heavily from the show, and he even got Julia Louis-Dreyfus (who played Elaine) to drop in for a humorous/slightly embarrassing shout-out. And under the pretense of crafting a mixtape “about nothing”, like anything from Larry David, Wale slyly touches on nearly everything, with a portion of his wide breadth of topics laid out in Seinfeldian “what’s the deals” in the intro (over the show’s theme song) and others subsequently explored with an impressive amount of complexity and wit.
Beyond it’s conceptual focus, The Mixtape About Nothing is also notable for Wale’s formidable presence as an MC. With dense wordplay and vocabulary he’s able to effortlessly layer self-reflexive humor and satire, clever deconstruction and dissection, and poignant insight into a series of varied cadences. Leaping from the off-kilter flow on “The Opening Sequence”, to fitting in comfortably with Bun B and Pusha T or Lil’ Wayne, to showcasing his verbal agility on the self-conscious “Roc Boys” freestyle, to the laid back emotion of “The Remake of a Remake”, or to any of the other styles he flips, Wale makes it sound way too easy. There’s no doubt he recognizes the value of his contributions to the genre (what’s a rapper without an ego?) and yet, for all his obvious skills, Wale won’t be using his bravado to vie for the title of “Best Rapper Alive” or similar accolades anytime soon. From “The Vacation from Ourselves”:
…And they label me a king; you can kindly take it back
I don’t want no fuckin’ crown, I don’t need no fuckin’ throne
See, the kings get killed, or at least overthrown…
It’s just one tiny example of Wale’s ability to take familiar topics in hip-hop, turn them on their head, and approach them with a refreshing balance of ego, modesty, intelligence, and complexity… something he does at nearly every step on The Mixtape About Nothing. Check out a few tracks below, including “The Kramer”, perhaps one of the most painfully honest and thoughtful reflections on race in hip-hop, period.
Download: Wale – The Kramer
Download: Wale – The Vacation from Ourselves
Download: Wale – The Artistic Integrity
The Mixtape About Nothing is available for free download over at Elitaste.