Over a drumless and mellow instrumental, Jerry Seinfeld assures Wale that people talking nonsense about him is not only to be tolerated but expected, and should not be taken personally. As Seinfeld ends his mini-rant, the beat transitions into a hip-hop feeling with the same mellow sounds sped up and a simple kick-snare loop that thumps so hard. Wale begins his verse immediately, explaining that he shuns the spotlight and all the scrutiny and rumors that come with it. Nothing special is happening in terms of lyricism but I’m digging the sentiment, because I pretty much hate attention too. Even the hook is pretty good. This is turning out to be a great song! Then Wale sings
“Fuck you, leave me aloooooooooone”
Sounding like he’d rather be doing anything else. Like he’s bored out his mind. Holding a bad note. Voice as nasal as humanly possible. As you might guess, this song, The Middle Finger, is now ruined. The second verse is about using drugs to help ignore emotional pain, another thing I can kind of relate to (swapping alcohol for drugs), but that damn singing came back afterwards and any goodwill I regained is totally shot now.
Poor execution is the story of Wale’s latest release, The Album About Nothing. A lot of decent ideas done badly. I like that Wale takes on so many topics like the one above, but his terribly lazy singing ruins a good number of these songs. Both verses on The Middle Finger are good, especially the second verse where his flows speeds up considerably without at all hindering his addressing of the topic. A lot of times, his rapping isn’t spectacular but definitely good. But he messes up a couple good moments by trying too hard. Case in point, on Helium Balloon, he says
“‘Fore I need niggas, I’ll purchase three mirrors/
And show y’all what’s for me”
The verse is about his detractors who claim he makes pop songs now that’s signed. He’s saying that he doesn’t need their opinions, that the only way they’ll know what’s “for him” is if he had three mirrors available. They don’t ruin the verse, but the four/[be]fore pun and “buy three mirrors to show you what’s for (four) me because that would include the real me and three reflections” things aren’t clever, they’re forced riddles. They don’t make his point any stronger, and they didn’t impress me, they’re just obtuseness masquerading as lyricism. Mistakes like that happen more than a few times in The Album About Nothing.
My last big complaint is the R&B songs, three of which end the album. All have real singers doing their hooks (thank God!), and all are clearly directed at women. I can’t say that they’re actually bad, they’re just so distasteful for me. The lyrics are much more simple than his other songs, but mainly, the idea of rapping over R&B beats just isn’t usually interesting to me.
But not everything is so displeasing. The Intro About Nothing is nearly perfect, especially the instrumental that’s a simple piano and drum loop until a go-go band smashes the hook. Despite the earlier complaint, I actually like Helium Balloon, especially its message that the same people who want to see him succeed can end up pulling him down with their expectations. This is another song where the beat changes with the lyrics, moving from relaxed reflection on his current success, to a suffocating and booming drum loop where Wale addresses his critics. Wale gets it really right occasionally.
The Seinfeld skits help rein in Wale’s writing style, giving hints towards his message and adding some needed levity to the heavier topics like The Pessimist‘s rants about everything wrong with Black society. I’ll resign to ignoring the respectability politics that he might be talking here, because the remainder of the song isn’t so compelling that I’d rather get mad at our disagreement instead of just skipping the song because the beat doesn’t do anything for me.
See? There’s almost always something stopping me from fully enjoying these songs. If not the singing or hack wordplay or R&B, then the beats aren’t to my taste, or brand names are getting too many mentions (that’s a slightly irrational pet peeve of mine). The Album About Nothing is one of those weird releases that’s close and yet very far from being good.