August 30, 2011

Jonah Bromwich wears his hair like John Riggins.

It’s hard to root for a losing team if you’re an optimist. Coming from Washington DC and being a football fan makes for an annual struggle. The Redskins play well in the preseason or they get a new coach. Things always seem to be looking up, and then they crash and burn. We’re already at that point this year, so I’m feeling very hopeful. More fool me.

Coincidentally, D.C.’s most prominent rapper, Wale Folarin, tends to follow the exact same pattern as his hometown team. Early in his career, he released two of the finest mixtapes of the blog era, the second of which was outstanding enough to crack our top ten albums of 2008. Wale was a thoughtful, clever rapper with excellent taste in beats, and the ability to rap well over go-go, a skill that makes DC natives go absolutely bonkers. Sure, there were shortcomings even then. Too many love songs. Too aware of what people were saying about him. Too quick to blame the fans for the state of hip-hop. But altogether Wale seemed like a pretty solid, promising rapper.

So we got excited for what was coming next. And then he released a tedious mixtape with tedious beatmaker 9th wonder. And his debut album, Attention Deficit, was an obsolete studio system’s attempt to please every demographic at once. The album wasn’t terrible but it wasn’t great, and it didn’t help that Interscope only shipped 30,000 copies—a pitiful number. So that flopped. Season over.

But in the offseason, Wale’s been making some moves. He’s signed to Maybach Music Group, Rozay’s impressive new rap collective. And on the MMG debut album, Self-Made, he stole the show, overshadowing Pill, Meek Mill, and the Boss himself. Heads were turned. And now Wale’s got a new mixtape out, The Eleven One Eleven Theory, two months before his second album, Ambition, is set to drop.

The first five tracks of The Eleven One Eleven Theory are very good. The beats are Go-Go and Wale’s rapping well, nimbly flowing over constant, infectious percussion. Second track “Fuck You” alone, has more energy than any track he’s done since 2008. It seems promising, and it’s clear that Ross’s patronage is paying off. But the sixth track is an insufferable slow jam called “Mother Nature.” On which, Wale drunkenly tells an anonymous woman that she definitely wants to experience something he calls the tornado.

After that, it’s a mixed bag. Concept songs “Barry Sanders” and “Varsity Blues” showcase Wale’s lyrical ability and sports knowledge. While “Underdog” and “Podium” are fiercely rapped testaments to his motivation and ambition. But in between these songs are plenty of duds — mostly in the form of songs that are clearly directed at wome – including a track about fake asses called “Fairy Tales,” which is less funny than it sounds

It used to be acceptable, even exciting, for a mixtape to have eight or nine songs with a heap of trash in between. But, as I mentioned before, Wale has put out two album-quality mixtapes, stacked with gems from top to bottom. And even though his talent is once again visible on The Eleven One Eleven Theory, the faults that diminished him in the past are still glaring.

The fact is, the Redskins are going to be terrible until Dan Snyder is no longer our owner. You can add as many solutions as you want, but if key problems still exist, the final product is never going to be up to par. Luckily for Wale, he doesn’t have to get rid of a meddling billionaire who loves nothing better than to fuck with the team he owns. All he has to do is stop rapping about what people think of him, stop trying to make another “Diary” (his big hit for the ladies), stop letting insecurity and feedback dictate the music. And if he can do that, he’ll make the album of the year and, hey, despite Snyder, the Redskins will probably win the super bowl. Have you seen the way they’re playing?

Or, more realistically, Wale will make a pretty good album and, tangentially, the Redskins will maybe, just maybe, have a winning season. It could happen. I swear.

MP3: Wale – “Fuck You”
MP3: Wale-“Chain Music”

ZIP: Wale-The Eleven One Eleven Theory

We rely on your support to keep POW alive. Please take a second to donate on Patreon!