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Album review: Wale & 9th Wonder's ''Back to the Feature'

July 1, 2009 | 12:27 pm
Murs_9th240 On his last outing, 2008's "Seinfeld"-themed, "The Mixtape about Nothing," Washington, D.C's Wale, altered the paradigm for what a mix tape can be: re-appropriating dialogue, cover art and concepts from the beloved sitcom to ruminate on everything from the rap world to racism to "Roc."

Expectations for his follow-up, "Back to the Feature," were astronomical. Between the frequent delays, the blog feeding frenzy, the A-list cast of collaborators, Wale would've had to invent hover boards to top himself. 

Accordingly, it's unfair to label the tape a disappointment. If Wale's previous release aimed for the stars, its successor digs toward the subterranean. As he declares during "Tito Santana:" "We ain't trying to make a statement . . . we just trying to give them collaborative hip-hop, that head-nodding, stoner, backpack lyricism." Toward the end, Wale admits "I wasn't trying to shoot for mix tape of the year or mix tape of the moment . . . I was just trying to get my rapping on."

With guest verses from Black Thought, Beanie Sigel, Bun B, Detroit underground legend Royce Da 5'9 and emerging talent K’Naan on the standout, afro-beat sampling "Um Ricka," good rapping was inevitable. 

Full of self-conscious swagger, Wale's one-liner game remains tight and tailored to '80s baby sensibilities with its Homer Simpson name-drops, but "Back to the Feature's" hyper-critical paranoia toward media, blogs and the Internet's rap wasteland grows tedious by the end. If getting un-followed by someone on Twitter is seen as a legitimate gripe -- as Wale cites on "New Soul" -- then maybe it's time to disable the Google alert. 

-- Jeff Weiss 

Wale & 9th Wonder
"Back to the Feature"
Self-Released
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