1-Listen Reviews are great for capturing the initial excitement of a release, but I usually dread crafting the follow-up. They are my TPS reports. If the album is great or terrible at least I have a clear opinion to right about, but when albums fall into purgatory, when they're in that vaguely disinterested grey area, it’s frustrating. How much can you really write about an album that's slowly but surely faded from your headphones?
I’ve been dreading revisiting Wale’s album, not just because of how I feel about the album, but how I feel about Wale.
I feel guilty.
As I've written before, Wale will always have a special place in my hip-hop heart. He’s one of a handful of emcees whose music is directly responsible for me eventually getting a job researching porn stars in music videos. I have vivid memories of the feels when I used to put on "W.A.L.E.D.A.N.C.E." Very few emcees have rivaled that excitement for me. Plus, as a suburban white kid, he was really my only resource for go-go, a genre that has always interested me but was hard to come by. I’ve been critical of Wale, but it’s always come from the passion I have for him as an artist. I hold him to a higher standard because I am very sentimental about his music. His career is important to me. In some ways his career is my career.
That’s what makes this such a hard review to write.
Honestly, and it hurts me to be honest, I haven’t listened to the Album About Nothing much, if at all, since the initial burst of attention. Granted, “Girls On Drugs” and "The Intro About Nothing" made it onto my iPod - the latter is actually one of my favorite songs of the year - but even my listens to those have been sparse and shuffle-induced. They aren’t skipped but met with subtle surprise, like seeing an old acquaintance on the street. “Hmmm, I forgot about you. Sure, let's catch up.”
As for the album as whole, the last full listen came in May on a trip home from New York. Since then it’s been lingering, scratching at the back of my neck like a mosquito bite. “Oh yeah I need to do a follow album review for that,” I'd think, but then opt for Mr. Wonderful or Venice for the millionth time. Earlier this month I used replayability as the basis of my argument for Mr. Wonderful as the album of the year, but it has to work both ways. If replayability is that essential for determining an album's success, than what does it say about Wale’s album that I haven’t listened to it all?
If this album was awful, if it was filled with Maybach features, stripper anthems and trap beats, I would have no trouble criticizing Wale, hell I’ve done it before, but that’s not what TAAN is and that's why this hurts. For so many years I’ve wanted Wale to return to the passionate, vibrant and charismatic rapper who single handedly made me a casual sneakerhead, and on TAAN he did it. I said the word heart six times in my 1-Listen review. Maybe it’s lazy writing, but what I still hear when I listened today in preparation for writing this follow-up is that heart. Sure, the album at times feels flat (the middle section drags a bit) or forced ("The Body" just isn’t up to par) but “The Bloom” is rich, “The Intro” is exciting and “The Matrimony” is incredibly sincere. That’s all I ever wanted from Wale.
Still, it just doesn’t click. I realize that as a critic, as someone who gets paid to draw clear conclusions about albums that “doesn't click” is frustratingly vague, but here I don’t feel like a critic. When it comes to Wale I’m a fan first and as a fan, though this album may not give me the same feelings as the mixtape on the same subject, though I may not blast it driving down Connecticut Avenue, though I may not listen to it at all, in a strange way it made me care about Wale again. If I didn't care I wouldn't be so perplexed, so torn, I wouldn't feel guilty for getting what I asked for but still not playing this album constantly.
It pains me to say, but this isn’t an album of the year contender for me. If it’s in your top five I certainly wouldn’t bat an eye, as a fellow fan I completely get it, but it’s not in mine and I doubt you’ll be seeing it on any year end lists. Still, by no means does that make the album a failure. I ended the first review with “for the first time in a long time, I'm excited about his music” and I still am. This album may not have made it's way into my soul, but I'm open and ready for Wale's next album to become a classic; it’s hard to call an album that does that a failure. The Album About Nothing isn’t the end-all-be-all, but it’s a step forward, a new chapter in my ever-changing saga with Wale.
Here’s to the future, whatever that may hold.
[Lucas Garrison is a writer for DJBooth.net. His favorite album is “College Dropout,” but you can also tweet him your favorite Migos songs at @LucasDJBooth.]