Music Review: Wale - 'The Album About Nothing'

Let's start with a weak analogy.

I watched pro wrestling from 1996 through 1998, and Sting was my favorite. He wasn't like other wrestlers: quiet, brooding, mysterious...sad, even. He lived outside the circus of loud, attention-seeking, Kool-Aid Man wrestlers of the era.

Eventually, WCW decided to combine their most popular individual wrestler with the industry's juggernaut faction, nWo. The end result was less than the sum of their parts.

Wale fans had experienced a similar trepidation when the artist joined Rick Ross-led Maybach Music Group in 2011. MMG represented everything Wale wasn't--loud, flashy, and shallow. Fun, sure, but unrelatable. It was the point of no return, they said.

But the move was less an absorption than it was an expansion of his career. Wale suddenly found himself with mainstream attention, features on major radio singles, and more magazine covers than are worth counting. The Album About Nothing represents his fifth full-length solo project since joining the group, and it's more apparent than ever that he never lost the fearless honesty that endeared him to fans in the first place.

Unlike Sting with red face paint instead of white, the MMG partnership has turned out to be a blessing in disguise for Wale. Four years in, the "psh, I like the old Wale..." is still out there. The only way to change their minds, of course, is to lay everything bare.

Let's look at five songs that accomplish this (and the one that doesn't):

The Glass Egg

Wale is at his best when he talks about what he's thinking rather than what he's doing.

Work-life balance is a challenge for everyone, but fame is a viscous multiplier. "They said 'don't ever change,'" but Wale's fame seems to have changed his friends even more than him. The line between who's on his back and who has is back is as thin as the difference between the phrases. 

The Matrimony ft. Usher

What better venue to expose your romantic insecurities than on a slow jam with Usher?

In what's allegedly "the realest shit he ever wrote," Wale struggles with self-doubt about whether or not he'll ever be able to settle down with a girl. He's stuck between wanting a wife and not knowing if he's capable of bringing a relationship to that point.

You might be surprised to learn the lifestyle of a rapper isn't exactly conducive to long-term commitment. Like any career-focused individual, Wale lacks the time necessary to please his other half. Sprinkle in some fame, and you have a recipe for temptation at every turn. 

The song itself is a jam of the highest order, though probably not one you'll want to listen to with bae.

The White Shoes

More than probably any other rapper would admit, Wale cares about what people think. He feels the same constant judgement today as he did growing up. Luckily, we can always buy new gear--in this case white sneakers.

A fresh pair projects status and boosts confidence, even for mega-rich Jerry Seinfeld. It's a positive, reassuring Sunday afternoon beat in which the famous rapper and millionaire TV star position themselves as no different from you: eager to impress at any cost.

The second verse takes a dark turn, though, as Wale recounts the time a kid in D.C. was robbed for a pair of sneakers he may have sold. Kind of a bummer.

The One Time in Houston

Texas' biggest city is the setting for Wale's foggy, anxiety-filled strip club exploits. 

The slowed, syrupy Houston sound is a far cry from traditional Wale, and one wonders if this is another attempt to reach a broader audience (aka "please everyone"), or if he's simply paying homage to a place he likes. 

Either way, the song sounds good. It may take a few listens if you aren't absolutely gone off molly, but eventually this one will grow on you.

The Girls On Drugs

The only worthy sample of Janet Jackson's "Go Deep" finds Wale earnestly searching for love among a sea of girls ranging from dazed to stoned. 

But before you go driving the judgement bus, remember these girls need love too. They may have a destructive way of escaping their emotions, but Wale can't help but sympathize with most of them. After all, he copes the same way.

If you ignore the references to female insecurity leading to cocaine addiction and attempted suicide, this is a really great song to dance to at the end of the night after the last beer pong game.



Not So Much: The Body ft. Jeremih 

While not exactly unpleasant-sounding, this track sticks out like a sore thumb at the end of an otherwise cohesive album.

"The Body" is a tacked-on club jam that could just as easily be the work of any other artist during the past seven years. Jerry's influence is noticeably absent, though the track probably fulfills MMG's one-song-per-album-that-compares-the-female-figure-to-luxury-vehicles-for-no-reason quota.

Wale's old Seinfeld-themed mixtapes were bookended by distinct opening and closing tracks that made the project feel complete. This album begins with Jerry Seinfeld himself and ends with what's ostensibly Jeremih's homage to R. Kelly.