In Wale’s interview for his Complex cover story with Seinfeld, there’s a telling scene in which the two platonic lovebirds disagree. Wale seems to suggest that he’s some sort of Rap nihilist, such that his art leans drastically toward the stylistic. In the interview he claims, “It goes back to the idea that everything’s been done already.” Seinfeld retorts, “Well that’s not true either… If everything’s been done, why get up in the morning?” It was a subtle jab, but you could consider it a window into Wale’s worldview. The young DMV rapper hasn’t run out of ideas, he thinks ideas themselves are obsolete. The difference is massive, as Wale’s music tends to be a scatterbrained confluence of influences crashing against his innately lyrical, intensely eclectic streak. When it’s good, it’s like a Jackson Pollack painting, splintering and dashing, substituting form for realism and stylish meanderings. When it’s bad, it comes off as trite or already done. On Festivus, Wale leans toward modern art instead of mere mimicry, creating his most satisfying fit of music in quite a while.
Operating in many different worlds simultaneously, Wale’s versatility is an enigma that tows the line between understanding his street-smart sensibilities and maintaining kinship with Jerry. Sort of Hip Hop’s answer to the comedian extraordinaire, both are wildly popular amongst their cult followings (Seinfeld’s wider appeal becoming so ubiquitous during his show’s run that his style is now a cliche´cultural artifact). With the help of Fool’s Gold captain A-Trak’s sharp cuts, the intro “Stroke Of Genius” has him walking through the rough plight of DMV living. Here he explains, “This is the capital of the universe / Where dreaming of bigger wheels is pursuing a newer hearse,” making this sort of wordplay look easy to fans closely heeding his bars. It also isn’t at all forced, something Wale will sometimes do when his paint splatters in a way his fans (whom he is almost abnormally close) consider sub-par.
Paying homage to Capone-N-Noreaga on “Blood Money 3.5” Wale dances over the track the way he’s been prone to since his earliest days. Breaking down his unique existence within Rap, he says “No I’m not a gangster, but I stay authentic / That’s why I go up in these places and I stay unblemished.” This song is a good show of range as he works well with A$AP Ferg once the track switches to a dark trap infused beat. DC’s street tough Dew Baby & Fat Trel’s similar “Loyalty” stretches Wale’s limitations to a slightly uncomfortable place, but it rebounds as Wale finds his footing, sounding eerily like his stand out verse on Waka Flocka’s “No Hands.”
An interesting experiment comes by way of “Friendship Heights,” where he and Chance The Rapper hypothesize with something sing-songy, and “Girls On Drugs” makes a somewhat successful attempt at an artistic statement about the fast life (sampling Janet Jackson’s “We Go Deep”) in the vein of Kanye West’s more recent work.
Wale remains a polarizing figure that critics either love or find insufferably frustrating. In his most comfortable elements on Festivus he’s a creative dynamo true to his native roots of percussive Go-Go on “Tonight (Suite 331),” and his chemistry with Pusha T is undeniable on “The Deep End” where both titans are allowed to freely flourish within boom-bap. In fact, it’s Pusha’s most freeing verse in some time. Ultimately he’s a lyricist worthy of mention by Kendrick Lamar as elite competition on “Control,” but his lack of regard for industry politics and his all-over-the-place aesthetic may never sway the closed minds of skeptical gatekeepers. Whatever the case, as the lead up to The Album About Nothing, he’s succeeded in grabbing our attention.