The untouchable Maybach Music Group empire hasn’t had great luck over the past few years. To be specific, it keeps getting over shadowed. Meek Mill’s Dreams and Nightmares dropped after Kendrick Lamar’s seminal good kid, m.A.A.d city, and Wale’s The Gifted had the honor of being released a week after Yeezus. Rick Ross’ Hood Billionaire was drowned by cries of #FreeMeekMill, and Meek Mill wasn’t free.
This time around, Wale got overshadowed for an entire month. Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly dropped, Earl Sweatshirt’s I Dont’ Like S**t, I Don’t Go Outside surprised and Action Bronson’s Mr. Wonderful finally came. The Album About Nothing walked on by after all that, like a kid arriving late to the Jordans line in December. Again, very unlucky, but let’s not let MMG off the hook. None of their recent releases were anything to write home about.
The Album About Nothing continues that tradition with its mix of good production and slack perspective, interrupted by inconsequential Jerry Seinfeld cameos. The story leading up to Wale’s fourth album — The Call and the depression leading up to it — are already well-known threads. Conveying the latter was a clear focus on this effort—the go-go influences are stripped down here. However, you don’t get emotional depth. It decolorizes the album. Although it’s better than The Gifted, The Album About Nothing too often drags. It’s connection with The Mixtape About Nothing and More About Nothing is mostly in the title.
There are some highlights: “The White Shoes” is a slow-tempo jam that somewhat works as a catharsis, while “The Middle Finger” is a whizzing trip to a purple-hue existence. “The Girls On Drugs” doesn’t use Janet Jackson‘s “Go Deep” sample to its maximum potential, but does find effectiveness within its bleak party scene (“The really insecure ones look good as s**t/ Nothing fill the void of a little pill”). There’s a general sense of cohesion within The Album About Nothing’s palatable, woozy production, but there’s too little compelling content. “The Pessimist” suffers from the J. Cole problem: plenty of awareness but very broad, idealistic strokes of insight. “That One Time in Houston” isn’t just one of the project’s longest track, but also one of its worst, meandering through nowhere past indulgence. But even at its nadirs, The Album About Nothing doesn’t falter because of poor song craft. It all feels inclusive, trading away audience thrills for self-serving expression.
You can even argue that the sequencing is a little wonky, too. Ending a pained album with a number on marriage and the female body is a head-scratcher. But you know what? They turn out to be two of Wale’s best songs. “The Matrimony” is your MMG joint for the ladies. Fortunately, it reaches further than something obligatory, benefiting from an instantly memorable Usher hook and an honesty that doesn’t feel the least bit sarcastic. And it still feels like “The Body” should’ve stuck despite the shamelessly objectifying hook. As The Album About Nothing’s bookends, they’re reminders about why there are a few still rooting for Wale in the first place.
Brian Josephs writes, frolics and cavorts in East Flatbush, N.Y. He tweets here.
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