The dred-headed step child. The self proclaimed “bi-polar” poet that plays Zelda, obsesses over NBA basketball, and fucks with Yogis. That’s Wale. Seldom a fan for the dramatic, Mr. Folarin’s been a deviation from the rest of Rick Ross’ Maybach Music Group since joining the squad in 2011. Enlisted extensively on MMG’s first compilation, Self Made Vol. 1, the District of Columbia native unjustly ushered forth an image to the mainstream music world, having already collected a copious cult following off of impressive and refreshing mixtape efforts like 100 Miles and Running, and the Seinfeld endearing effort The Mixtape About Nothing.
As the poster child for DC hip-hop, Wale has founded a unique, distinct style over the course of his career — a style that has jockeyed for the ears of hip-hop’s backpackers. With Chuck Brown’s Go-Go rhythm infused into his veins, and a knack for thoughtful word play, Folarin’s pen is at it’s best when afforded the opportunity to bounce around tracks as opposed to barging straight through them, the latter of which he was often asked to do with MMG. Consequently, his first two efforts on Ross’ imprint, Ambition and The Gifted, lacked an inherent Wale flare. In actuality, it wasn’t just an absence of nostalgic spark, but more so a clashing of musical environments coupled with what seemed to be an unquenchable thirst for relevance. Backed by the hulking sounds of Ricky Rozay’s sonic persona, and a cloudy vision as to where his ambition was leading him, Ralph appeared out of his element during his initial stages with MMG.
With Chuck Brown’s Go-Go rhythm infused into his veins, and a knack for thoughtful word play, Folarin’s pen is at it’s best when afforded the opportunity to bounce around tracks as opposed to barging straight through them, the latter of which he was often asked to do with MMG.
Vowing to return to his old form, the self-proclaimed “savior of the DMV” announced last April that he’d be branching out to his own imprint, a collective of creative youths called “Every Blue Moon.” That, paired with his ticking-time-bomb-of-a-relationship with MMG, act as primary motivators with his latest project, The Album About Nothing. The follow up to his insanely successful Seinfeld themed mixtapes (The Mixtape About Nothing, More About Nothing), TAAN looks to capitalize on the emcee’s past successes rather than branching out further from his roots towards uncertainty. Employing the juxtaposition of friend and advisor Jerry Seinfeld, Ralph navigates familiar waters over the course of the 14 track effort, utilizing the comedian to bring both clarity and cohesion to the project. Touting Seinfeld’s presence as his talisman, Folarin delivers a sensible, introverted perspective of his career at large, and a brashly honest peek into his personal relationships rooted beneath.
With contemporary Kendrick Lamar releasing the racially charged To Pimp a Butterfly just two weeks prior, a few tracks on Wale’s album find their niche on the hip-hop spectrum in a similar neighborhood, albeit a block or two down the street. “The Pessimist” samples a classic bit of George Costanza ranting to Jerry about the benefits of cynical pessimism, allowing Folarin to bring his thoughts full circle by drawing from a similar feeling.
Like George’s, Wale’s pessimism extends atop a double edged sword. Unlike George’s, however, Wale’s pessimism extends towards his own race, as opposed to the opposite sex.
“Staring at the idiot box, riddle me this . . .
If a killer was a n***a would n***as still really care?
Cause n***as worse than Zimmerman livin’ life everywhere”
The decision to enlist fellow Roc-Nationer J. Cole on the hook was fitting, and the two mesh well together to produce a final product that is leaps and bounds ahead of their previous commercial collab “Bad Girls Club.” And while Ralph makes his angst against the portrayal and realities of his own culture quite apparent (with “The White Shoes” as well), he divulges even greater grief on the track “The Middle Finger.”
Feeding off of Jerry’s wisdom to power him through the proverbial bullshit, Ralph cites a number of discrepancies on the track that have him in his loner bag. Whether it’s an abstinence from brown-nosing, an increasing reliance on opiates, or the disappointment of his girl miscarrying their first child, the rapper digresses some shocking truths, weaving through one problem and on to the next with next to no candy coat.
“Miscarried my first child, ain’t finna come out
Fuck the therapy route, where the syrup and loud?
Blue 30 come around, there’s a smile
Opiated to show up later with more elation
All my bitches say ‘Take it easy, enjoy the paper'”
Though the track contains a considerable dose of negativity, it’s clear that Ralph has realized his success doesn’t concern the likes of those outside of his circle. Vowing on the hook to “follow no n***a, just the God inside of my mirror,” the emcee’s maturation is on full display. Similar themes surface on multiple tracks, such as his balancing act breakdown on “The Glass Egg,” an extended metaphor of a track titled “The Helium Balloon,” and one of my personal favorites from the album, “The God Smile.”
Sporting multiple records that reassert himself sonically, and others that air out dirty laundry, Ralph makes sure to pay homage to the females on this project as well. “The Need to Know” featuring
Tiara Thomas SZA is bound to break your repeat button, matching up seamlessly with “The Deal,” an iconic (aren’t they all?) Seinfeld episode that acknowledges the impracticality of being just friends with benefits. “Tryna keep it low, keep em all on that need to know/Tell everybody that we’re just friends, but to be honest that platonic shit’s for TV shows,” he admits, a line he willingly contradicts on other tracks like “The Bloom (AG3),” and the Usher collab “The Matrimony.” Even “The Girls on Drugs,” the highlight from his Festivus mixtape, holds its own within the mix of female joints.
For the majority, TAAN succeeds in reestablishing Wale’s return to form, a message the rapper makes purposeful mention of on the album’s first track, “The Intro About Nothing.” “Time to clock in, baby,” he declares to Jerry, seconds before being met by an upbeat piano, soulful background vocals, and eventually the distinct din of Go-Go drums. Gliding from one topic to the next, Ralph spits an impressive string of couplets, making it quite clear that he’s back in stride after a few momentary stumbles along the way. And while the album isn’t flawless (as always with a Wale project, the production leaves much to be desired), it sounds like a homecoming. It sounds like a guy that’s been through the ringer. Most of all though, it sounds like something, even though we all know it’s really about nothing.
Overall Rating |
His fourth major label project, Wale’s The Album About Nothing falls right in line with its mixtape predecessors. Dipping nostalgically into the past while remaining cognizant of the present, Wale does an admirable job piecing together distinctive themes concerning both his musical and personal life. Topping out at just over an hour long, the 14 track project can be easily digested by a wide demographic of listeners. And while the production lacks an overwhelming punch, Ralph’s poetic prowess picks up much of the slack. That, coupled with relevant and timely psychoanalysis from Jerry Seinfeld, make the DC rapper’s fourth album his best thus far.
Top Tracks |
“The Pessimist” ft. J. Cole
“The Need to Know” ft. SZA
“The Glass Egg”
“The White Shoes”
Where to next?
Follow Wale on Twitter here.
Follow Wale on Instagram here.
Follow Wale on Tumblr here.
Like Wale on Facebook here.
Buy The Mixtape About Nothing here.