Harold Stallworth has a crush on Elaine Benes.
Wale and Jerry Seinfeld are the oddest of odd couples. One is a beloved cultural icon; the other is Wale. Back in 2008, before being inducted into XXL’s inaugural freshman class, Wale’s Seinfeld-themed Mixtape About Nothing was considered a compelling gimmick, a wishful thought rather than a genuine bid for collaboration. But much has changed in the seven years since its release: He’s dropped three retail albums on as many record labels; aligned himself with Rick Ross’s gangster rap imprint—only to ratchet up the coffeehouse facet of his persona; and wrestled his way into the Washington Wizards’ front office, serving as a “creative liaison” for the rejuvenated franchise. The fact that Seinfeld signed on to not only promote, but to help inspire the direction of the Album About Nothing, is a testament to Wale’s slow, grinding ascent to mid-tier rap star.
This isn’t the first time that a stand-up comedian has been featured on a rap album, but it might be the most organic collaboration of the sort. In the late ’90s, many a Comic View alum played the album-skit circuit, and by the turn of the century, when Dave Chappelle impersonated Nelson Mandela on Reflection Eternal’s debut, it had already become cliché. Over the years, Chris Rock, indisputably the most hip-hop of all hip-hop comedians, has lent his services to the likes of Method Man, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Prince Paul and Kanye West. And as recently as last year his younger brother, Tony Rock, appeared on Cormega’s neo-edutainment album Mega Philosophy. But those comedic appearances were afterthoughts; they come across as hasty, last-minute additions. On the other hand, for better or worse, one gets the sense that the Album About Nothing was predicated on Seinfeld’s willingness to entertain Wale’s every creative whim, or perhaps vice versa.
Throughout the album, Seinfeld plays something of spiritual adviser, a celebrity guidance counselor, offering up vague, fortune-cookie platitudes in short bursts. “Getting engaged is like the first hill of a roller coaster,” he says on “Matrimony,” a dreary, Usher-assisted single that finds Wale sulking over his crisis of commitment. Barely audible over the loose, lumbering drums and church-choir wails of “Success,” he insists, predictably, that “success is the enemy.” If these pull-quotes don’t strike you as particularly sidesplitting, it’s probably because they weren’t intended to be. Seinfeld wasn’t brought on board to bring the funny—he’s Popa Wu to Wale’s Raekwon the Chef, the Daddy Tang to his Pootie. He simply steers the conversation and Wale structures his tracks around their dialogue, and as a result, the Album About Nothing bears a closer resemblance to any number of Seinfeld’s more recent brainchildren than, say, the most successful sitcom of all time.
“The One Time in Houston,” which expounds on just that, is just the type of plodding anecdote that one could expect to encounter on the Marriage Ref, an ill-fated reality show in which a rotating panel of celebrities slam the gavel on real-life marital disputes. The premise of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee—a wildly lucrative Web series that meets halfway between podcasting and car porn—can be heard on tracks like “The Middle Finger” and “The Glass Egg,” where Wale rants about the trappings of fame and relative fortune. But the album works best when it shows some semblance of fun: “The Girls on Drugs,” a spacey, slut-shaming anthem and “Summer League,” a sparse, yodel-like bonus track featuring Kanye West and Ty Dolla $ign, are the silver linings to what amounts to a largely—and surprisingly—joyless album. The Album About Nothing reinforces what rappers have seemingly understood since the late ‘90s: stand-up comedians are best served funny.