Mixtape Review: Wale & A-Trak – “Festivus”

shebreathesmusic.netOn Christmas Eve Eve, December 23, Wale blessed us with an 11-track project to tide us over until he drops his fourth studio album, The Album About Nothing.

The project, a collaborative effort with DJ and producer A-Trak, features a plethora of different guests like Ab-Soul, Pusha T, and Chance The Rapper. Much like The Album About Nothing, the project features clips from Seinfeld and tracks built around the clips. Basically, it has the same formula as 2008’s Mixtape About Nothing and 2010’s More About Nothing.

With the opening track, Wale does two things. One, he explains the source behind the term “Festivus” with a sample from Seinfeld — (where else?). The clip features Jerry Stiller’s character, Frank Costanza, shouting (per usual) about Festivus and the protocol it involves. Spoiler: “Festivus” is an alternative to Christmas created by Frank. Two, he invokes his inner Basquiat, hence the title “Stroke of Genius,” and explains how he will paint the picture of what “Festivus” is. It is a great opener, as it does a good job of setting the tone for the rest of the project.

On what may be the mixtape’s best track, “Girls on Drugs,” Wale tackles the subject of girls on drugs.

She sprinkled a little something up in her lip/Start sipping and now she sweating, her lips clenched/Kind of dizzy, her friends tell her to get a grip/I’m trying to get me a real woman to take out/But for now, they’re wild/They rather get it in…

The track discusses why these girls use drugs and the effect they have on them. Lack of love, self-esteem issues, and insecurities are just a few of the causes. Wale has never been one to shy away from tackling serious and touchy subject like this. The track’s chorus samples Janet Jackson’s 1998 single, “Go Deep.” It fit extremely well with the track’s subject matter, so including it was a wise choice.

Wale has good chemistry with many of the featured artists. This is somewhat surprising since I wasn’t convinced he would connect well with all of them, prior to listening. He maintains the proven chemistry with Pusha T and Fat Trel, which was expected. His natural chemistry with Ab-Soul was evident, as the two effortlessly traded bars back and forth on “Keep It Movin’ (Freestyle).” ‘Le and A$AP Mob member A$AP Ferg also meshed well together on standout track “Blood Money 3.5.” He even sounds comfortable with the always-eccentric Chance The Rapper on the friend zone-themed “Friendship Heights.”

While the features give this project a lot of depth, the featured artists sometimes overshadow Wale — (“Keep It Movin’ (Freestyle),” “Blood Money 3.5”). It’s not necessarily that they outdo him, but they do well enough to make him seem, at times, forgetful. The solo tracks are where Wale gets to TRULY shine (“Girls On Drugs,” “Stroke of Genius,” “Chess”).

On these solo tracks, we hear strokes of genius (no pun intended) and reminders of why many of us initially connected with Wale’s music many years go. Those wanting the Wale they heard on More About Nothing, 100 Miles & Running, or Attention: Deficit will be pleased by these tracks. The passion, the hunger, the poetry and wordplay; they’re all there.

Also, I love the variety of beats on this tape. It’s not just Go-Go, or trap beats, or the airy, melodic, hazy production Wale loves to spit over. It’s all of that and more. My favorite beats were on the tracks “Chess,” “Friendship Heights,” and “Keep It Movin’ (Freestyle).” They featured production that was comfortable for Wale but also pushed him to sharpen his flow at times.

Overall, this was a great project from the D.C. native. He continues and improves from where he left off on The Gifted and gets the momentum going for The Album About Nothing. He shows versatility throughout this project, as he proves he is able to collaborate with those stylistically different than him.

Longtime fans are familiar with Wale’s use of Seinfeld scenes in music. Thanks to this project, new fans will have a sense of what The Album About Nothing will be like.

SN: While “Chess” is a great track, it is way too short. “Friendship Heights” with Chance The Rapper also suffers the same fate.

Standout tracks: “Blood Money 3.5 (feat. A$AP Ferg),” “Girls On Drugs,” “Keep It Movin’ (Freestyle) (feat. Ab-Soul)” and “Chess.”

Overall: 8/10

– Cam (@CamStizzy)

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