Over time, the fact that Wale released a mixtape based on Seinfeld seemed more like a gimmick than a solid idea. The inventive choices that he made on 2008’s The Mixtape About Nothing faded away, replaced by vague memories of a track that sampled the theme song, some “What’s the deal?” references, and a phone-in appearance from Julia Louis-Dreyfus. But that’s what happens when an artist aligns themselves with a mass market heavyweight and proceeds to release watered-down versions of their material, as Wale did under Rick Ross and Maybach Music. So, even though The Album About Nothing is a sort of watered-down version of The Mixtape, it’s good to hear Wale chasing his own creative highs rather than someone else’s.
On Wale’s last few releases, he spent time mimicking Ross’s bravado and dabbled in handfuls of sounds and styles. The Album About Nothing struggles with the latter; after the DC native riffs on his hometown’s go-go style on “The Intro About Nothing”, he travels to Texas to cop the syrupy stylings of H-Town for “The One Time in Houston”. “The Matrimony” aggressively courts pop radio balladry with Usher’s hook. Length also becomes an issue, as the album drags through its hour-long duration in a largely mid-tempo haze. Even the interjections from the Seinfeld crew (samples of dialog from the show and from Jerry himself, as he and Wale have struck up a friendship) feel like passing clouds rather than seams tying things together.
The Album does feature some strong tracks, reminders of the promise Wale holds. The soulful snaps and harmonies of “The Intro” perfectly shade some of his best rhymes on the album: “Just bought my homie a Rollie simply to pass time/ And on top it’s lonely so keep your homies right by your side/ And if life is short then we’ll be the shorts of the Fab Five.” SZA plays the ideal foil on “The Need to Know” (altering a Musiq Soulchild melody, no less), where Wale spaces out his flow as if he’s struggling to figure out his place alongside the lithe hook, echoing the tense narrative of friends with benefits. Throughout, Wale captures the weight of facing criticism and prejudice, of being an outsider looking in. Unfortunately, all that weight sinks his ambition as often as it lends his words impact.
Essential Tracks: “The Intro About Nothing”, “The Need to Know”