BY MITCHELL NORTHAM
The buzz around the hip-hop world in the past few weeks or so has been what’s up with Kendrick Lamar’s new album.
Is it good? Is it bad? Is it better than his last album? Is it better than J. Cole’s newest project, 2014 Forest Hills Drive?
Kendrick’s new album––To Pimp A Butterfly––has drawn much acclaim, criticism and comparison. But it’s overshadowed one of the best works of hip-hop and artistry this year. Once again, a work of D.C. rapper Wale has flown under the radar.
Wale’s newest album is ironically titled The Album About Nothing. It’s ironic because the album is about many things and is far from being simply about nothing. He covers so many topics, ideas and art on this album that it makes the title misleading. Which is fine, but just know that the listener is certainly getting into more than just something when they hit play on The Album About Nothing.
The album kicks off with Wale and Jerry Seinfeld having a conversation on the first track. Yup––Jerry Seinfeld. What other hip-hop artist is going out on that limb to plug in skits from a 90s sitcom star on their album in 2015?
And the rapper from D.C. does this throughout the entire album, and it’s especially awesome during a pair of tracks pegged back to back early on in The Helium Balloon and White Shoes.
On The Helium Balloon, Wale addresses his battles with fans. Some love him, some hate him, some troll him and some say he sold out––but ultimately, they need him. While Wale raps “Some love to see you blow, they don’t want see you pop,” Seinfeld chimes in with a witty metaphor. Wale is the balloon, his fans are the little boy holding the string––letting it go, only to try and catch it.
“So you’re the balloon, you’ve got that helium, and we travel with you through the string. So we’re going up there with you even though we’re on the ground. We can’t fly, I can’t sing, I can’t make music, but I can get a––I can buy it. So I can get a balloon. I can’t fly, but I can get a helium balloon,” Seinfeld says in the intro.
He continues between Wale verses: “Now when a kid gets a helium balloon, he’s holding that string and he’s keeping this balloon from going anywhere. But he also wants to let it go.
“So he wants to let it go and he wants to catch it. Eventually he loses it––he doesn’t want to lose it.”
Next up on White Shoes, Seinfeld sets a scene talking about a woman seeing his white shoes, citing her saying that she likes them because they make her feel good. Wale dives into the verses, rapping about how white shoes can make a poor black kid feel good too, but he complicates the scene that Seinfeld sets by illustrating a criticism of poor people making rich decisions. But the song has an overall feel over positivity aside from the criticism. The hook from Wale goes, “Take this good advice, if they’re gonna judge you for life, ay we can’t always be fly, but we gon’ be good long as them sneakers white.”
After addressing consumer culture and kids getting held up and shot for Jordans, Wale then wraps the song up saying, “No matter how good or lavish us (expletives) got it, we just a bunch of ravenous addicts living for fancy haberdashery.”
Feel free to Google a few of those words in spare time.
The biggest takeaway from this album is that Wale wasn’t overshadowed in any way on any song or on any verse––not even by Seinfeld. Cole, Usher, SZA and Jerimih are featured, but not for verses – those are all Wale. None of his MMG label dudes even made it on this album and really the only shout out or mention they got was on a track titled The Middle Finger in which the rapper gives a big F-U to anyone who opposes or doubts him. So there’s that.
The tracks with Jerimih and Usher give a nice R&B ending to this album and slow it down so Wale can address the females that have been in and out of his life throughout the years, and the future ladies to come his way.
Seinfeld helps with the ladies and sex-game rapping on the track The Need To Know. The skit during the intro and between the verses of this song is actually from a Seinfeld episode in which Jerry and Elaine try to establish a “friends with benefits” deal––alluding to the theme of the song which Wale raps and SZA sings out.
While some of the tracks show that Wale is still pissed at critics and that he’ll never stop putting on for his home––The DMV––it shows he has matured and he’s truly finally happy where he is with fans and music. While the album is a return to his roots and his early mixtape days, its far better than something he could have done in 2008––all he needed was time and reps.
So back to Kendrick’s album:
The biggest difference between these two albums is the people that were in the studio while they were being recorded. To Pimp A Butterfly is good, but Kendrick’s sophomore album could have been so much better if he had someone in the studio to tell him that a track––or two, or three––sounded lazy, weird, bad or just whack.
During the production of The Album About Nothing it sounds like Wale had that, or at least something similar to it.
Or maybe it was just the guidance of one man: Seinfeld. Perhaps the guidance of legendary entertainer, artist and comedian was what Wale needed on this album. It is certainly what has set the rapper apart from the others in 2015.