Going to college in the DMV, many of my life’s strongest memories are strongly tied to “Mixtape About Nothing” and the “Attention Deficit” era. Being an out-of-state student from the South Side of Chicago in the small college town of Charlottesville, I felt isolated from my peers, even the Black ones. I was not only homesick, but quite literally sick, off and on my whole first semester. But listening to Wale helped me adjust to DMV culture, and his music was a more palatable transition into “Go-Go” my music (though as someone used to Twista, footworkin, drill, and jukin’ to slow jams, I’m still not too fond of Gogo. I’m sorry). “Manipulation” articulated my tumultuous relationship with the opposite sex, while “90210” articulated aspects of the fast-paced, carefree college lifestyle in the midst of working towards future aspirations. I wrote a version of “Diary” on Facebook, and my first tattoo was a quatrain prayer I wrote with a line from “Artistic Integrity” as the start. This new chapter in my life forced me to “Rediscover Me”, who I was, and who I would like to become .
Wale’s music helped me get through a lot of adversity, but it was also the soundtrack to amazing times. My best-friends and I would stay up reciting “Penthouse Anthem” verbatim, getting hype in anticipation of the “Little bit of Marvin, dim those lights / let me beat it up like Kimbo Sl…” line. Walking around campus bumping “The Cloud” on my iPod made Virginia’s already gorgeous spring weather more beautiful. “Pretty Girls” or “Chillin” were party mainstays, and Charlottesville would erupt whenever the DJ spun “No Hands”. When I heard “The Trip (Downtown)” for the first time at a house party, it’s a miracle I didn’t make a baby that night. And Wale’s metaphorical use of skits from Seinfeld was nostalgia squared for me, as someone who grew up watching the iconic series. I saw Wale perform at our Student Activities Building, and even started #NoSoupForYou trending topic when I asked him for a RT to jumpstart it. I learned to love Virginia very much, to the point that going back to the Chi seemed like a “Vacation From Ourselves”.
However, after “More About Nothing”, love for Wale’s albums deteriorated. “Ambition” had little replay value for me, and “Bad” got old real quick. Save for “Love-Hate Thing”, I haven’t given “The Gifted” more than one full listen. It was just boring to me. ”The Eleven One Eleven Theory” and “Folarin” were sort of “average Wale” (though “Chun Li” was on heavy rotation for a while). His semi-recent release of “Festivus” was a step in the right direction, but I wasn’t enough to hold my attention for more than a few days. Most of all, I utterly loathed his poetry (though I might have a slightly more objective reason for that). Wale’s music started to resonate with me less and less, and I couldn’t fully understand why.
The narrative of an artist “falling off” has many premises and just as many rebuttals. I was part of the camp who wanted “the old Wale”. At the time he signed to MMG, I was happy for his success, and glad his music would reach a wider audience. But I feared it would become too mainstream and stray from his “sound”. But whether that’s a fair critique or not, we have to be aware of just what we are putting on pedestal. While an artist would probably (and justifiable) not be able to honestly see themselves as “falling off”, fans are as just as unlikely to be truthful about their fickle, often arbitrary music appetites. Artists are often defensive when fans offer critiques, but as fans, we double down when artists call us out on our fair-weatherness.
How often do we say or hear the phrase “I miss the old (insert artist)?”
Nostalgia often compels fans and artists to pay tribute to it, which is problematic. It’s often beneficial to us as fans, but restrictive to musicians. That tension can cause you or I to be huge fans one day, then think their work is “trash” the next. If our love for an artist’s past work is so strong that it overshadows their artistic maturation, we can’t genuinely gauge what their current work as to offer.
Some artists do fall off though. I can’t even explain how much of a Lil Wayne fan I used to be, but most of his new music is unbearable to me (though that’s a whole piece for another time). But sometimes it’s not that the artist has devolved.
If their earlier work is tied to some of the best times of our lives, we (sub)consciously want them to continue to make music like that. We become like lovers too fixed on remembering the good times than creating new ones. It’s a problem artists like 50 Cent, Nas, Lupe Fiasco, and now Wale has to deal with.
With avid fans calling for it’s release after the first mixtape, The Album About Nothing is long overdue. It’s an aesthetic second chapter to his critically acclaimed mixtape, a hint of nostalgia, but definitely still contemporary Wale. This album reminded me of why I was such a hardcore Wale fan as an out-of-state college freshman in Virginia.
But it also helps me appreciate what Wale still has to offer as an artist.