He’s no stranger to controversy, but as one of the most polarizing rappers in the game, Wale is embracing his indiscretions, finally finding comfort within himself to share those trials and tribulations on a project seemingly about nothing.
On a cold New York City night, fifty of the industry’s most influential tastemakers and executives found themselves packed in an Upper West Side cultural landmark – Tom’s Restaurant.
Who knew the famous Seinfeld diner would become the temporary hang-out spot for one of the most reputable hip-hop labels in the game, Maybach Music Group, but it did.
The quaint corner restaurant, typically covered in classic Jerry & co. souvenirs, now featured images and merchandise of a locs-sporting rapper who loves him some Seinfeld.
We were all there for something, but the yellow and red striped menus confirmed we were there to enjoy a “dinner about nothing.”
Oh, and a “preview” of Wale’s Seinfeld-inspired LP – The Album About Nothing.
Guests were given the option to order breakfast, lunch, or dinner, which included cleverly thought-out menu items like the “Every Blue Moon Pancakes,” “The Middle Finger Burger,” and “The One Time In Houston Salad.” And of course, there were libations. Belaire Rose, specifically.
Dinner was delicious, but guests were waiting for the arrival of the main course – Wale (or “Wallace” as Rick Ross would say).
At 8:15 p.m., Wale and his entourage waltzed into the tightly packed Morningside Heights diner. All eyes were on him. And just like a seasoned politician, the “Body” rapper made his rounds through the congested restaurant to engage in the hip-hop version of shaking hands and kissing babies – daps and bro hugs.
One-by-one, Wale thanked each and every person who decided to spend their Wednesday evening with him, and then he addressed the man who’d moderate a conversation about nothing – RapRadar’s Elliott Wilson. His mentor Rick Ross also made an entrance (with three beautiful women and a lavish burgundy fur coat in tow), but the calculating boss played the background. The evening wasn’t about him, it was about Wale.
The DMV emcee appeared to be in a good place. Humbly happy would be the best way to describe it. And for the first time in a long time, Wale seemed at peace with all the decisions he’s made so far.
After the excitement settled, Wale and Elliott Wilson sat behind the diner’s counter as everyone intently stared. Before the session began, Wale quickly said, “This is just a preview, not for review.”
Elliott asked Wale about a song titled “Girls On Drugs,” which contains a sample from Janet Jackson’s 1997 single “Go Deep.” The cut was initially featured on his December mixtape Festivus, and wasn’t going to appear on his new album, but luckily, Janet Jackson gave him the A-OK. “Thank You, Ms. Jackson,” a gracious Wale stated. Everyone laughed and then he signaled the sound guy to cue up the music. As the men in the room bopped their heads to the heavy bass line, the women countered by mouthing Janet’s catchy chorus.
“I’m at the point in my career where I actually care,” Wale said. “I care what happens. I care what happens to this shit. I’m a fighter, and I’ve been fighting for what I believe in.”
As the night progressed, the idea of “transparency” became a reoccurring theme, and The Album About Nothing was transforming into something. “I’m sharing a lot on this album. Secret girlfriends and miscarriages.”
From what I gathered, Wale’s rationale for sharing deeply personal issues is rooted in feeling underrated and dismissed as a legitimate musician.
“In some regard I feel like we’re digressing as a people…. the more transparent I get, the less people can ask me.”
Surprisingly, Wale made the bold decision to not feature any other rappers on the album – with the exception of J. Cole, who’s featured singing on “The Pessimist.”
Instead, Wale received positive vibes from SZA on “The Need To Know,” which features the TDE songstress singing the hook from Musiq Soulchild’s “Just Friends (Sunny),” and “The Helium Balloon,” which opens with Jerry Seinfeld giving Wale a metaphoric pep talk about not letting his fans control his decisions.
As time quickly passed, Wale continued to crank out a well-curated tracklist with relatable songs like “The One Time In Houston,” because everyone has had a “remember that one time…” moment, “The Real You,” and the grandiose Just Blaze-produced banger “Success.”
Toward the end of the session, Wale pondered the idea of playing the crowd one last song that has “Grammys” written all over it – “The Matrimony” featuring R&B veteran Usher.
Deciding to use a similar formula he used on “Lotus Flower Bomb” with Miguel, Wale made it clear that he knows critics will try to put him in a “box,” but “fuck it,” he said.
The night ended on a high note. Wale stood on top of the counter, took a deep pull from a community blunt circulating the restaurant, and thanked everyone for the umpteenth time. He then passed the mic to Rick Ross, who closed out the session with a few words of encouragement and “yada yada yada.”
PHOTO CREDIT: Renell Medrano via Atlantic Records
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