Noteworthy: a music column by Peter Walters

By Peter Walters

Swag-er. This is the first word uttered on Wale’s (wall-é) 2008 album, “The Mixtape About Nothing.” If you listen closely you can hear him laughing a little before he jumps into a verse over the “Seinfeld” theme song. In fact, the mixtape’s 19 tracks revolve around a “Seinfeld” theme. We get samples from Jerry’s questionably funny stand-ups on ” The Perfect Plan” and a sample from Michael Richards’ (Kramer) infamous racist outburst at the Laugh Factory back in 2006. Track 6, “The Kramer,” uses the Laugh Factory clip brilliantly. It starts with Richards yelling before moving into Wale’s take on the outburst, race, and the N-bomb-which he drops plenty to make a point.

“For this to happen, for me to be at a comedy club and flip out and say this crap, I’m deeply, deeply sorry,” said Richards in his apology on Letterman. Wale samples this clip at the very end of the song, then cues a laugh track at the last second. It’s a pretty serious moment, and what’s great about this mixtape is that it blurs the lines of what’s funny and what isn’t.

Behind the “Seinfeld” front is grade-A production. Most of the tape was produced by Best Kept Secret, but also features production and appearances from the Roots and British producer and DJ Mark Ronson. There is a definite club influence to the sound, but a lot of the samples come from older, 1970s and Motown era music. The synths, old r&b samples, innovative beats, and Wale’s smooth flow form a tight mix. I haven’t heard many hip-hop albums with so many strong tracks.

“The Mixtape About Nothing” keeps it interesting with different tempos and production styles. There’s an advantage to having more than one producer. It’s only a good situation if your artist can keep up with all the different ideas. Wale delivers. He can rap fast, slow, nasty, with political motivation and with a sense of humor. Throw all his guest appearances into the mix, and you’ve got a genuine piece of art.

Biggie had the East Coast, 2Pac had the West and Kanye’s putting his city on the map. Despite leaving for a while to DJ in Maryland, Wale’s back in D.C., putting his own city on the map. He doesn’t like the thought of people saying he doesn’t come around anymore. He likes to stay close to the streets he grew up on. He likes to shop at Commonwealth in D.C., who’ve become like family to him. It seems like a good partnership,-when people buy a “Chillin'” T-shirt from Commonwealth, they get a hard copy of the mixtape. This is also a way to get the music out there. If you listen to the mixtape all the way through you’ll definitely notice some dissatisfaction with the state of rap music and the music industry in general. “What’s the deal with these ring tone rappers?” Wale says in the first track. Among other references to Napster and iTunes, Wale makes sure to assert that he has a message.

He’s not a gangsta, he’s not on drugs, and he’s not Lupe Fiasco or Lil’ Wayne. He gets tired of the comparisons, and while most people wouldn’t mind being compared with rappers on the skill level of Lupe and Wayne, Wale feels like it’s stifling. He raps alongside Wayne on track 15 “The Cliché Lil’ Wayne Feature” as well as “Nike Boots” which appears on a different album. Wale is an uptown D.C. rapper from the northwest side. He likes to rap about the real life experience. He’s got the qualities of an underground rapper, but he still appeals to more than just the underground.

His new mixtape “Back to the Feature” is set for release April 29. The new album is slated for a summer release. One of the album’s singles, featuring Lady Gaga, “Chillin” dropped a few weeks ago. New York based clothing company 10.deep is hosting “The Mixtape About Nothing” for free online at Check it out, turn it up loud, and enjoy.

Make sure to check out next week’s Noteworthy; I will be interviewing Macalester’s own basement party band. I’ll have details on their new name and what they’re doing to get ready for Springfest 2009.