I saw Wale at House of Blues back in April, but I hadn't picked up any of his albums yet. Then my cousin told me about his free mixtape up on DatPiff. It's been a good season for free stuff!
As a middle-class white kid raised in a largely middle-class white suburb, the genre (sub-genre) of "gangsta rap" was always a little inaccessible. And frankly, fake. Was Ice Cube really going to start a "bloodbath of cops dying in L.A.?" That said, as far as I know Johnny Cash never really "shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die"; putting oneself in another character has always been a part of songwriting. This kind of character shapeshifting is especially jarring in hip-hop, and I'm not sure totally why. I think partly it's because rap personas seem more carefully crafted and more pervasive from song-to-song, and partially because the almost-talking vocal line creates more of an expectation of earnestness.
All of which is a roundabout way saying that I can relate a lot more easily to Wale's More About Nothing mixtape than I can to N.W.A. It's a mixtape inspired by Seinfeld. It's actually Wale's second take on the sitcom; in 2008 he released the Mixtape About Nothing (also available on DatPiff). He sprinkles quotes from the show through the mixtape, but not just for comedic effect: he turns an Elaine Benes quote on men changing after sex into a divider between a gentle seduction and a jarring villain turn in "The Manipulation 2." Later, he delves into Tiger Woods' mind and larger themes of infidelity in "The Eyes of the Tiger." Many of the tunes deal with issues of relationships, whether doomed ones in the "The Breakup Song," new ones in "The Ambitious Girl," or post-sexual in "The Friends Strangers."
Wale may be drawing inspiration from Seinfeld for lyric and theme, but for music he's pulling from everywhere - opener "The Problem" starts with tinkling piano, "The Number Won" is peppered with dark ambient electronic sounds, "The Soup" is carried by a snaking guitar hook, "The Ambitious Girl" has an uplifting horn part. His flow is versatile, ranging from conversational in "The Cloud" to pounding and anthemic on "The Black and Gold." It's impressive stuff. Wale is a creative force musically and someone worth watching in the hip-hop world over the next few years.
Wale official site
Download from DatPiff