Wale: Back to the Feature
This tape is a good reminder of why Wale made the XXL Freshman 10 back in 2009. Sure there are early signs of the flaws that would make his later music so unenjoyable (at one point he condescendingly explains a double entendre, although the saving grace here is that the reference is so obscure I still had to go to rap genius after he explained it), but dude had some clever bars and charisma. Here was a guy that was making a name off of rapping about Seinfeld references over D.C.'s go-go music who out of the blue decided to drop a mixtape with underground legend 9th Wonder based around the concept that every song featured another artist. It was collaborative hip hop a la The Dungeon Family or The Native Tongues with an ethos explicitly described as "N****s be rappin'," and it came at a time when Wale was still hungry and looking to prove himself before his first album dropped.
And it worked. There are a lot of different flows on here, some good, some bad, and occasionally the artists are mixed terribly in a way that screams "we sent some emails back and forth". But a lot of the tracks have Wale and another rapper trading bars in a way that clearly shows that wrote their verses together, which is becoming rarer and rarer in these days of the internet. 9th Wonder is consistently good if not great, and many of the samples, such as on "Wonder Why", "Warwick Avenue", "The Sun", "Say It Again", "Tito Santana", or "New Soul" (actually produced by Best Kept Secret), are top Who Sampled material. Wale drops some fantastic one liners here, with ridiculous pop culture references (Eric Mangini, Kid Icarus) and even a reference to Coldstone Creamery. He isn't always necessarily saying much, but he's saying it in an interesting way. It's no wonder he loves Seinfeld, because it was similarly "the show about nothing" that did nothing in clever ways. It's a bummer that this is probably the peak of Wale's creative career, but it's a testament to why he had such promise.