On The Mixtape About Nothing, the bulk of D.C. rapper Wale’s shout-outs go to Seinfeld, which Larry David famously pitched to network suits as a “show about nothing.” Wale, like most diehard fans of that great NBC sitcom, knows that assertion was devious—that Seinfeld was really about a whole lot and that its philosophy of “nothingness” was an acknowledgement that most people, regardless of class and color, believe that things are only as important as they affect one’s self. Similarly, Mixtape About Nothing (download the album for free here) is a platform for Wale to rant about the things that are important to him, taking the ethos of Seinfeld and applying it to black life, and pondering the conundrums of modern hip-hop artistry, the male ego and the music industry in general in postmodern terms.
This shit’s got layers—a mad collage of curly-cueing rhymes, direct addresses, sly reproachments, playful chest thumping and self-beatdowns. The lifework of titans like Nas, Kanye West and Maya Angelou gets (re)assessed on “The Artistic Integrity”; “The Remake of a Remake (All I Need),” featuring a great vocal by Tawiah and prefaced with a nutty appearance by Julia-Louis Dreyfuss, presents a defense for the necessity of the remake (who was it who said different times call for different measures?) but interestingly omits the “You’re” from its title (the track is a remake of Method Man and Mary J. Blige’s “You’re All I Need to Get By,” itself a remake of the Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell classic); and the insanely titled “The Cliché Lil Wayne Feature (It’s the Remix Baby!)” plays like a backhanded compliment to one of the few hip-hop acts in recent memory to garner the sales and acclaim they deserve. Another one, the Roots, even gets funnily written out of one of their own songs (Rising Down‘s “Rising Up”)—condensed here to a little over minute-and-a-half and retitled, natch, “The Roots Song Wale Is On.”
There are rappers with better flows than Wale, but it’s difficult to think of any with his alternately jovial and weighty lyrical skill, which is allusive and self-referential without sounding smug or overly ironic. As a study in sampling, this mixtape is mind-blowing, full of witty riffs on hip-hop culture that are cannily paralleled to the dramas that overwhelmed the characters on Seinfeld—and in the case of “The Krammer,” the nightmare of Michael Richards’s real-life “He’s a nigger!” shtick. “The Manipulation” more subtly engages with Richards’s performance mode, correlating Krammer’s manic-depressive identity to varying hip-hop personas, but “Krammer” is all the more impressive for somehow finding sympathy for Richards’s racist meltdown a few years back at the Laugh Factory, acknowledging not only the risk and confusion that comes with appropriation but showing Whoopi Goldberg and Elisabeth Hasselbeck that blacks and whites live at once in the same world but different ones entirely. Like Badu, he’s gon’ tell us the truth—because he sees life from more than one angle.