"Dedicated To The Winners & The Losers..." - Raekwon


Thursday, June 12, 2008

Wale: Better Than Lil' Wayne...And Probably Lupe And Kanye, Too

And Arguably As Good As Seinfeld...

Over the years a lot of ink has been spilled over how Seinfeld was a television show that became successful almost despite itself. It was created as almost a vanity project for it's budding star comedian, allowed to continue to exist on the air on a whim, featured a cast of main characters that under real life circumstances are vastly unlikeable, and rejected the basic notions of what a sitcom should be. It was a show that could have never been successful in a vacuum and had it been created even a decade earlier or later would have surely failed miserably and ended up as one of those cult shows that you're annoying friend would talk about endlessly and force you to watch old episodes on DVD while you just want to watch the basketball game. However due to the foresight of a particularly savvy NBC television executive, the show was allowed to gain a small but loyal following that soon grew exponentially to the point where it not only became the most popular show of the 1990's but became the undisputed greatest show in the history of televsion. Seinfeld worked not only because it was riotously funny but because it captured the ugly essence of the neurotic, self-absorbed, hypocritical Baby Boom generation. As we all know, the show centered around four neurotic, vaguely Jewish Manhattanites living in the Upper East Side whose ugly self-centered-ness and neuroses served as a dark parody of the self-absorbed go-go eighties and early nineties. It reflected the zeitgest of a time in our country where we were no longer threatened by nuclear annihilation, war or even gross economic poverty where one could sit and reflect on the joys of being devoted to one's self. I can't imagine a show that's less hip hop which is why Wale's undeniably brilliant new mixtape and erstwhile oddball Seinfeld tribute, The Mixtape About Nothing, is so...well, damn brilliant.

The Mixtape About Nothing is the rare mixtape which transcends the often limited and shallow scope of the mxtape genre both because of it's conceptual brilliance and execution. Wale has crafted a mixtape that works as an odd tribute to Seinfeld using snippets of dialogue, completely unexpected shout-outs from Seinfeld members and elements of the show to create a mixtape that not only pays tribute to a brilliant show but helps comment on the rap world today. Like Seinfeld, Wale is a rapper that you might not get at first. His flow is kind of awkward in the same sense that Kanye West's flow was awkward on The College Dropout; his lyrical pedigree vaguely sounds like a warped amalgamation of Kanye, Lil' Wayne and Lupe Fiasco which on the surface would make him an opportunistic clone of the biggest trends in hip hop; and his music bears elements of D.C. go-go music which judging by the fact that there has never been a major go-go act to break out of D.C. in it's thirty year's of existence would lead one to believe that the rest of the country does not care for the sound of bongos and xylophones. However, unlike Lupe and Weezy, Wale is something they are all not. Wale is a Next Generation-type of emcee. He's the Seinfeld of the rap world.

In a sense, Wale is the first rapper of the new generation to be the perfect storm of substance and style which places him beyond any new school emcee that has come along thus far. Wale combines the strengths of a few of the elite of the new school emcees creating a hybrid rapper that can both rock the cargo short wearing hip hop elitists and the wannabe-thugged out ignorant LCD rap fans as well. Often, it's been pointed out that rappers like Lil' Wayne who despite having a clear passion for off-beat weirdo lyricism and a taste for avant-garde don't really say anything of substance in their rhymes. Taken at face value, Tha Carter III is a record about cough medicine, blowjobs, hailing from outer space and being a better rapper than anybody else alive. It's not exactly "What's Goin' On?" in terms of poignant social commentary. Wayne has got the non-sequitur pop culture refrence punchline game down on lock but the elephant in the room that his fans and apologists seem to be ignoring is all those fancy punchlines are almost completely vacant. There is nothing really behind them. The other side of the argument is socially conscious rappers like Lupe Fiasco being almost of all substance and very little style. While I'm a big fan of The Cool, it's hard to deny that Lupe can be at times extremely pedantic and self-righteous with his hip hop bashing and his message. The Cool is a meant to be an "important" "message" record and Lupe does not let you forget that for one second over the course of the entire album. While Lupe has enjoyed some solid success, it's hard to imagine that he's ever going to be as successful as Kanye or Lil' Wayne. Socially conscious throwback boom bap rap is very insular in nature and appeals to a certain set of fans who may be extremely devoted but are hardly the mainstream of hip hop fandom.

Wale's different, of course, because he fuses the strengths of both ends of the hip hop spectrum to create music that is generally....well, brilliant. Like Wayne, Wale is known for his somewhat non-sequitur weirdo lyricism and more importantly like Wayne, he seems to enjoy making and having fun with lyrics. On The Mixtape About Nothing, Wale drops hysterical and esoteric references to Oskana Baiul, the ineptitude of the New Jersey Nets, and the eating habits of the Olsen Twins. "Back In The Go-Go" featuring Southern rap gods Bun B and Pusha-T or retitled on the mixtape as the "The Feature Heavy Song" is 4 minutes of chaotic D.C. rap goodness and for my money is one of the most fun rap songs to be released all year. The song backed by producer Best Kept Secret's go-go-esque production is just a fun lyrical onslaught of epic proportion with all three emcees blacking out over the song's percussion heavy instrumental. Other songs like "The Manipulation", "The Chicago Falcon Remix", "The Cliche' Lil' Wayne Feature", and "The Remake Of A Remake (All I Need)" highlight Wale's passion for lyrics and lighter side.
However, Wale stands out not just because he can make some epic bangers, either. The Mixtape About Nothing is a conceptual record that has a message, too but unlike Lupe or Kanye, Wale doesn't preach; he simply offers his often poignant opinions about a variety of subjects including racism, growing up, the music industry and the nature of his own hype. "The Kramer" jumping off from a recording of the now infamous racist tirade from Michael Richards is the show-stopping centerpiece of the entire album. The song delves into the complexities of the usage of the n-word with a deft and skill that can only be characterized as Obamian. The song narrates a complex story in which rap artists who naively assume their usage of the n-word will be omitted by their white fans who recite their songs word for word and thus help perpetuate a feedback loop where the word is continued on and on ad infinitum. Judging by the muddled nature of "Be A N**** Too", if Nas can come up with an album that is half insightful as that than I will be pleasantly surpised. What's stunning about Wale's conscious side is that he offers clear and insightful ideas that escape many a conscious rapper (Mos Def and Common I'm looking you dead in the eyes)? He's really just that damn good.

It remains to be seen if Wale will be as (relatively) successful as Seinfeld was. Wale is a rapper that is certainly seems like the next big thing but plenty of pretenders to the throne have come and gone and left us with Lil' Wayne licking lollipops all over the radio. The Mixtape About Nothing is a great and transcendent mixtape but plenty of promising young rappers have defaulted when it comes to delivering in the pressure when a commercial album is released. Had the mixtape been released as a legitimate commercial album, I can't imagine that there would be a better album released all year. It's a stunning piece of work that deserves the hype that it's receiving. I'm convinced that Wale is the real deal but is it time for a rapper that effortlessly blends the best elements of LCD and conscious rap? We'll see but if it doesn't... I'll see you back in the go-go.

23 comments:

Christopher said...

Why do you always avoid typing "Nigga" or "Nigger"? I'm sure, despite your assumed lack of melanin, context dictate there's no reason to self-censor there.

I still need to give it some more listens but its boring, so far.

padraig said...

The greatest thing to me about Seinfeld is the way it mercilessly skewered all that Me Generation bullshit w/out ever aspiring to satire. It's not really accurate, btw, to lump them in w/the Boomers, being that all of the Seinfeld characters were born in the mid-late 50s; they're more in that weird bubble between the Boomers and the Boomers' children. The Boomer paradigm is that whole Big Chill/30 Something axis which is, unsurprisingly, infinitely more smug and self-righteous than Seinfeld could ever hope to be. Look at the Big Chill, one of the most unbearable movies ever made; the whole thing is a bunch of Boomers sitting around and rationalizing selling out. It's not the selling out that bothers me, it's the way they go to these great lengths to make themselves feel better about it by pretending they didn't sell out. That never would've happened on Seinfeld as 1) none of the characters gave a shit about anything in the first place and 2) even if they did they'd never sit around whinging about it. I much prefer the Seinfeld version, wherein people are open and honest about being total assholes, to the Boomer have our cake and eat it approach.

I don't know how much any of that has to do with Wale, though. So far Mixtape About Nothing is striking me pretty much the same as 100 Miles & Running; cotton candy, entertaining and fun wihout a ton of substance. Seinfeld claimed to be about nothing but in doing so it wound up actually being about a ton of stuff, mainly the things that went unsaid. Whereas Wale really just isn't saying anything most of the time. Whatever, though, I give him major props for being unafraid to be original and try different stuff out. It's a quality in short supply in rap and pop music in general these days.

"there has never been a major go-go act to break out of D.C."

Trouble Funk. I don't know if you could call them "major", but they're at least on the same level as Cameo and the SOS Band and all those other big early-80s funk acts.

Anonymous said...

"I don't know how much any of that has to do with Wale, though. So far Mixtape About Nothing is striking me pretty much the same as 100 Miles & Running; cotton candy, entertaining and fun wihout a ton of substance. Seinfeld claimed to be about nothing but in doing so it wound up actually being about a ton of stuff, mainly the things that went unsaid. Whereas Wale really just isn't saying anything most of the time. Whatever, though, I give him major props for being unafraid to be original and try different stuff out. It's a quality in short supply in rap and pop music in general these days."

I honestly don't understand how anyone can listen to this mixtape and say he's not saying anything. Granted, I can see this argument for "100 Miles And Running" (although I think that people are forgetting shit like "Rediscover Me" and "Warming Up Kane"), because alot of that was just Wale rhyming for rhyming over beats (not that there's anything wrong with that!). But this? Nah, most of these songs have topics behind them. He's hardly saying nothing on "The Kramer," "The Crazy," "Star," "The Vacation From Ourselves," etc.

To say you don't like how he's saying this stuff is one thing, but to say he isn't saying anything is just wrong. Seriously.

JustChad

Jordan said...

"the undisputed greatest show in the history of television."
I dispute that shit. Simpsons 4evar.

"The Experience" is still the greatest n-word song, and I wonder why you and others don't namecheck it when talking about "the kramer." I understand it's 2008 and all, but that's a significant precedent, don't you think?

What kind of irks me about Wale is how impressed with himself he always seems. Like that insufferable intro to "WALEDANCE" where he takes credit for jumping on dumb hipster trends like tight jeans and nike dunks and then gives himself more credit for rapping on top of a recent non-rap crossover hit (which to be fair is very Kanyesque). I see that uninteresting type of egotism is all over this mixtape. Like I do think it's a little brilliant to do a Seinfeld inspired mixtape, but Wale probably thinks it's the most brilliant thing in the history of the universe.

Jesus Shuttlesworth said...

"The song delves into the complexities of the usage of the n-word with a deft and skill that can only be characterized as Obamian."

sounds like a more dramatic version of "mr. nigga" and "be a nigger too" combined (jordan, i almost agree with you, but "the experience" is just too short for me). and Obamian? that speech has not really started the conversation so many pundits (and yourself) thought would occur.

Curb Your Enthusiasm to me is better than Seinfeld since Larry David plays himself and all the things Padraig talked about. LD is my role model for all life

Berto said...

I think you hit the nail right on the head with your characterization of Wale and the mixtape. I haven't heard a better release yet this year.

Trey Stone said...

i actually think that Wayne's completely on-point critique of Al Sharpton at the end of his album (i'd say the rant in general but i'm not real familiar with the facts he uses) proves he's a sharp dude who's just crafted this split crazy/serious rap persona because he knows it's more exciting that way. it was pretty cool hearing him say something i've thought about Sharpton for a while now, and not resorting to the bullshit "hip hop is like movies" deal other rappers already have.

regardless of whether this dude's "bridging the gap" with conscious talking points/sub-Wayne punchline bragging, he's boring as shit. and the beats here aren't even good for a mixtape.

i'll eat my words if he drops a dope album but for now all the "second coming" shit is a little much

DocZeus said...

I have feeling that Wale (like Lupe or Nas or any random "real" hip hop artist) is just gonna be one of those rappers that people are gonna start hating on principle because he's a proxy for the hatred that fans of Jeezy and Weezy have for fans of quote unquote "real" hip hop.

I mean who ever doesn't like "Back In The Go-Go" is as full as shit as I am if I ever said "Go Getta" was wack. Plain and simple.

Trey Stone said...

lol, i mean it's cool if you wanna think that for convenience but you're confusing me with tray-A. not even a huge Jeezy fan BTW, he's put out plenty of dope songs though.

i got no problem with hip hop just because it's a certain type, just whether it's done well. this guy strains his voice on every track and never really switches up his flow, which sounds like he's constipated. i'd love to get the lyrical enlightenment from dude but it's pretty hard to focus with the way he raps.

DocZeus said...

Trey-

No, I know the difference between you and Tray. I wasn't addressing you specifically.

Yeah, I mention that Wale's flow is kind of awkward. He's not a flawless emcee by any stretch of the imagination. I get that point of the argument but to me when people say he's boring just reeks of anti-real hip hopism if that makes any sense.

I think if anything his ability to create a cohesive album is beyond any of the new school emcees except Kanye and Lupe. I think he's somebody that will grow and grow when he begins to improve his technical skills. He's got raw skills but I think the dude is going to be a star.

He reminds of a young Kanye. That's why I'm so excited by him.

On another note, I also agree that Wayne is completely right about Sharpton (even if I think Weezy was on at least seven types of drugs while recording that spoken word outro on Misunderstood) but I think Sharpton is completely right about Wayne. He isn't saying shit in his music. I think it's really telling that the only point that Weezy comes with a cogent point on the entire album is when he's doing a "Pop's Rap"-esque spoken word piece at the end of the album. When it comes to injecting any thought into his actual rhymes, he's almost a complete cipher.

DocZeus said...

Padraig-

Quick thought. I agree that's what I was alluding to about Seinfeld. I may have mispoke about the baby boom/me generation dichotomy. They all fall into the whole retched spectrum of self-centered-ness as far as I'm concerned.

Anonymous said...

"I have feeling that Wale (like Lupe or Nas or any random "real" hip hop artist) is just gonna be one of those rappers that people are gonna start hating on principle because he's a proxy for the hatred that fans of Jeezy and Weezy have for fans of quote unquote "real" hip hop."

"Yeah, I mention that Wale's flow is kind of awkward. He's not a flawless emcee by any stretch of the imagination. I get that point of the argument but to me when people say he's boring just reeks of anti-real hip hopism if that makes any sense."

I'm honestly beginning to believe this as well. Any hyped (no pon-o) artist that appears to be the savior of this rap shit, or just really critically praised seems to take a beating on blogs, while it seems that people try to find "interesting" things to cop to when discussing rappers of the opposite ilk. Shit's pretty annoying, and has been going on for years.

JustChad

Trey Stone said...

first off, appreciate the response Doc. i'm kinda tired right now and i made that first post without completely thinking it over, it was too blunt. i know i tend to shit out comments about what i think all over your blog lol, been trying to lay off some lately.

as for the anti-real hip hop thing...how'd i put this. i mean, other than 'Ye/Wayne/T.I./Jeezy, we probably share the same opinion about Top 40 rappers generally sucking, though i like some of their singles. and i mean if you did some retrospective post about, say, Biggie's greatness, you wouldn't find me in there saying "dude Biggie sucks, get over the '90s" or some silly shit.

my thing is that i seem to live in an alternate universe from you and a couple other rap blogs i read when it comes to newer rap. and some of the Wayne backlash/Wale being the greatest thing since sliced bread (not that they're necessarily connected) mentality to me seems to stem from an us vs. them mentality. something like, Pitchfork and pop music critics like Wayne, so he can't possibly be that good, and Wale's relatively obscure, so he's being unfairly ignored. i'll believe you when you say you really like this dude even though i don't see the appeal in this tape at all but i can't help but think that black-and-white our rap/their rap attitude seems to inform some of the opinions on rap blogs i read. i mean i think the new Wayne is awesome but it may not be for the same reason as Pitchfork, hipsters or whatever. not something i think about.

sorry, big tangent there, something that i've just been thinking about. did Sharpton actually criticize Wayne specifically, i assumed it was just based on the hip-hop criticism last year. i don't think you give Wayne enough credit, think he has plenty of interesting and substantive moments throughout the album, but that's another topic.

and JustChad, i mean i'm sure there's always message board/Internet haters but i just don't like dude at this point. i want to see what other people're seeing in him, it's not something i came into thinking "hmmm, how can i shit on bloggers' new favorite rapper today"

Trey Stone said...

oh and my bad if that "i'll believe you" bit sounds condescending, didn't mean to suggest you were being disingenuous here or something like that.

i kinda hear the "young Kanye" comparison as far as him being hard to box in, i just think dude'd need to really refine his flow and technique 'til he really got to that point, like you mention.

tray said...

I'd be interested in

a) that Obama race speech post you promised, since I thought it was just full of shit and would like to know what you thought was so great about it, and

b) a new Nas material post. Coming off a pretty strong album with Hip Hop Is Dead, and after calling so much attention to this one, I thought it would actually be good because HHID proved he could still make a good album and he wouldn't dare to put out something that sucked after all the hype he created. But it really does look like it will suck. Be A Nigger Too is a big mess, Black President is pretty lacking, Hero's like a lazy Nas Is Coming... the only passable thing we know is on the album so far is Fried Chicken, and that's really only because of Busta's verse.

DocZeus said...

Trey-

Yeah, Sharpton (or somebody in Sharpton's camp) released a statement today about Wayne's comments and said that they wouldn't dignify a response to somebody who didn't have anything smart to say which was kind of f'ing hilarious. Go Ol' Head.

Tray-

1. Oh, I totally forgot I promised to write about that. I assume your voting Republican but I just thought the speech was so great because it was the closest anybody's ever gotten to my actual feelings on race.

2. I'm not quite sure what to expect of "Untitled" from Nas. I definitely thought most of the stuff that Nas' released have been pretty weak but I love Hero, Cops Keep Firing and "Let's Go Esco" off the N.I.G.G.E.R. Tape is seriously the dopest beat I've heard all year. I remember hearing a snipper early this year and just losing my mind over that beat.

Honestly, I'm really hoping the album is either jaw-droppingly bad or stunning because the album would be a massive failure to me at least if it's kind of meh. I want something at least provocative.

padraig said...

@doc - oh, no, I know what you were saying. I just thought that in light of Wale appropriating (not in a negative way, though) the Seinfeld characters/meme and everything it represented as an icon/theme it seemed relevant to point out that the Seinfeld characters weren't really Boomers. A Boomer mixtape or album would would've been someone doing a "Cheers" theme circa '97-98. btw I certainly agree that both Seinfeld and Boomer tripe were despicable on attitude/ethical level, I was just saying that Seinfeld, besides being far more entertaining, was also at least honest about it. It's like post-Reagan people no longer felt any need to hide or rationalize the fact that they were selfish assholes. I guess that was, strangely enough, one of the few silver linings to the absolute hideousness of the Reagan era.

@justchad - you can have topics and still not be saying a whole lot. to be clear I don't think that not saying much of substance is so terrible. it is pop music, after all. I just thought it interesting that, where a show like Seinfeld functioned on many different levels, Wale is pretty heavy-handed most of the time. when he addresses a "topic" there are always quotation marks, so to speak. which, again, isn't so bad in and of itself. my thing is that both of his mixtapes, while enjoyable at first, don't really stand up to repeated listening. but that's just me. plus, again, major points for at least trying, which is more than can be said for lots of haphazard bullshit floating around.

Christopher said...

Boring in regards to the Wale mixtape, that is.

Anonymous said...

padraig-I just can't disagree more, and I don't want to get into the "having topics but still not saying anything" argument, because it sounds a little condescending to be honest, and I think that a song like "The Crazy" has a few layers in it, as well as a few songs on "100 Miles And Running". And a song like "The Kramer" isn't heavy-handed at all to me.

It's all to the good, agree to disagree.

rrougher said...

Everything from the tracklist titles, to the guest spot, to the dialogue clips are suprisingly (for me) on point. The only thing I would take out is the skit, it gets annoying on multiple listens but then again the fact it's placed right before the weezy remix almost makes up for it.

africanorigins said...

I'm a fan of Wale. I see the Kanye comparisons because they both tend to combine pop with underground tones. But does that make him better than Lupe? It's down to personal opinion. And I say NO. Better than Kanye at rapping? Yes. Better than Wayne? Yes.

Wale could be the follow up to Kanye because the subject matter is very similar. They both got that, you-ain't-up-on-this-louie-vuitton, I-bought-new-accessories, ladies-like-my-steez, and oh-yeah-Darfur-is-a-tragedy style.

But I'm all for it. In order to make it mainstream. I think you have to be able to combine pop and what you do. The more dope rappers that can make it in the mainstream, the less I have to turn my radio dial from MC DrugKillaPimpThug Rapper.

raafi said...

I'm a bit late to the game here, I know, but, "I can't imagine a show that's less hip hop"? Let's just go back into our time machine here. Friends was the contemporary of Seinfeld that co-anchored the vaunted must-see TV lineup. And I'm not sure I've ever met a black person who was able to sit through an entire episode of it. ... now back to the Wale-Kanye-Wayne argument.

Anonymous said...

dude u r a fucking retard. wale is good but his lyricism cant even compare to nas. nas is the best rapper alive point blank period