Unsigned D.C. rapper's strange love of Seinfeld helps deliver the best mixtape of 2008
The Mixtape About Nothing, the latest release from D.C. lyrical prodigy Wale, is simultaneously beautifully crafted irony and the genuine mental struggles of a man who proves every theory Freud has ever penned. A record born of the racial controversy surrounding Michael Richards' comedy club meltdown and Wale's love of Richards' cash cow Seinfeld, The Mixtape About Nothing is a detailed, informed, and humanistic real-world discussion of US race relations, as well as Wale's inability to find a place in contemporary hip hop. Unfortunately, it has, for the most part, fallen by the wayside due to the album's release in such close proximity to Nas' publicity stunt, Untitled, and his great, yet inferior, The Nigger Mixtape.
Modeled after the famed '90s sitcom -- the proclaimed "show about nothing" -- The Mixtape About Nothing plays in an oddly similar fashion: If you don't catch the beginning, you probably won't understand what's going on at the end. The album's most important track as such is "The Kramer". Punctuated by an audio clip of Richards' infamous 2006 night club explosion in which he called a few black hecklers "nigger," the track is an ambitious meditation on American colloquialisms, linguistics, and the co-opting of a primarily black art form into mainstream white culture -- Wale flows in an embarrassed hush about the hip-hop adoption and use of "nigga" coloring the world we live in.
But rather than holding himself above the controversy, Wale includes himself in the issue. He casually flows about the term's recent backlash even in the hip-hop community, "And P said I should stop saying nigga / But if I did what would be the difference / I'd still be a nigga, he'd still be a nigga in his feelings / I’d still be a nigga with no deal tryin' get one." And this is the beauty of the record: Wale avoids the trappings of conscious hip hop by not placing himself above it; rather, as an insider, doing his best to look at the situation objectively. Therein lie the contradictions, intentional and otherwise. With The Mixtape About Nothing's inclusion of Richard's freakout, the Seinfeld samples carry a double meaning, one that sees Wale virtually criticizing the show and everything associated with it, and another that plays as an homage to a pop-culture love. When, on "The Artistic Integrity" -- the first of a quartet of tracks dedicated to embarrassing, cliché trends in hip hop -- Wale samples a conversation between George Costanza (Jason Alexander) and Jerry Seinfeld from the show (Seinfeld inquires quizzically, "What were you thinking, what was going on, artistic integrity? Where did you come up with that? You're not artistic and you have no integrity.") Its ambiguous intention could mean a bevy of different things: An attack on Richards? A self-critique? A love of the show, or accusatory finger pointed firmly at mainstream MCs? All seem remarkably plausible.
Where Seinfeld found its genius in the depiction of everyday life, so too does The Mixtape About Nothing with its tendency not to hark on one topic for too long. Because for as much as Wale flows about race relations, there’s a similar amount about his not having a record deal and Myspace rappers. As such, he mostly avoids the army of features, self-deprecatingly pointing them out where they appear ("The Feature Heavy Song" and "The Cliché Lil Wayne Feature"). And even though Wale employs the help of powerhouses such as Lil Wayne, Bun B, and Pusha T, he is never once outshined.
He strings together nearly incomprehensible alliterations and allusions on "The Chicago Falcon Remix." Realizing that this track contains the hottest verse of the year, Wale spits it a capella as the track's denouement ("I'm the best, even when I'm cynical / Angle these beats like a pentagon, whenever my pen is on, ain't nothing here minimal / Counting my bread, my account like a brunch at a synagogue / Get it y'all that's a whole lot of bagels, see me out the bagel San Quentin in a beige coupe.")
Wale's love for Seinfeld ultimately blurs the line between what is his and what is the show's. The concept and inspiration behind The Mixtape About Nothing were theirs, but the execution is his, and that’s something notably pulling at every snare rip and sample on the disc. This is never clearer than when he exasperatedly croons at the end of "The Kramer", "Cause under every nigga there's a little bit of Kramer / Self-hatred, myself, I hate ya." In this line, Wale coalesces reality and fiction, equating Kramer with Richards, placing himself and others similarly as a partially realistic entity, a contradiction that he believes runs through everyone. But it's through this self-fictionalization that Wale is able to separate himself from the music and society, giving him a chance to speak eloquently and realistically about things long-since thought of as a closed case.