On the road to receiving a doctorate (PhD) in any field, one must go through a series of examinations to prove their excellence and knowledge in their respective field. In addition to courses, comps must be passed, oral examinations aced, and a dissertation topic presented, approved, and then written. On Jun 19, the DMV’s Wale drops his pre-cursor to a dissertation in the form of digital epithets. Topic? Wale’s Cerebral Impulses: A poet in motion with music. But some will call it Back to the Feature (BTF). A product cut and cooked by Wale, 9th Wonder and a host of well known verbal beasts, just raised the bar (16s and beyond) for all the average wordsmiths to such a great height that a Master’s thesis is needed in order to gain access to the amount of thought put into making such a tape. No doubt that those in the studio hung their heads low and had to go edit their lyrical game , tracking changes left and right. Not only does Wale and company deliver a lyrical bonfire to warm the coldest of hip hop lovers, but 9th wonder takes us on a tour of his thought process as well, w/ well places samples on your right and boom bap on your left, even sounds your cochleae never made love to before.
In the tape’s beginning track, Wale opens with, Class is in session/While them niggas pitch verbs, so they say/my weaponry is words/do-re-me/the war is in the form of poetry/so it’s straight see forth from the thoughts I bring/bang! Epiphany/them niggas is gimmicks to me/I can eradicate a village if you give me a beat.
With these words, he immediately sets the tone, calling pupils attention like a young professor. It’s evident Wale won’t stop until he reaches tenure. What’s brilliant about BTF is how the level of intensity is maintained lyrically and musically over the 22 track mixtape. He not only sees words as a vehicle for thought, but appreciates the sound of words, and these are two entirely different things. By bringing on other like minded artists, Wale was able to create a piece of work that was extremely cohesive.
In spite of featuring another artist on every track, this mixtape is heavy with Wale’s tone. Often times artists try this approach and the listener ends up asking “Who’s tape is this again?” Not in Back to the Feature. Bars were spat by the likes of Talib Kweli, Memphis Bleek, Black Thought, J Cole, Young Chris, Jean Grae, K’Naan, another DMVite, Kingpin Slim, not so much in defense of Wale, but in support of his artistic hustle. You see, it wasn’t the usual co-signing that artists do. The way Back to the Feature approaches this concept manages to preserve their style and highlight Wale’s at the same time. This isn’t a tape that is solely about promoting the artist known as Wale, but more about promoting lyricism as a dying art that needs air from the breath of the old and the poets’ voices to continue beating in our ears.
The naysayers will bark that Wale’s abandoned Go-Go on this tape, but the forward thinking person knows that an artist should have many types of paint brushes upon which to paint a canvas. Bringing in 9th Wonder, formerly of Little Brother was just the right artist to help shape Back to the Feature. Tracks like “Wonder Why,” “The Sun,” and “Say it Again” are just a few examples 9th’s extensive music knowledge and technique. Ninth Wonder isn’t the only producer on Back to the Feature to note. BKS, Mikey Mike, and Mark Ronson, Cool & Dre, Ritz, and Warren G made their presence felt in tracks sprinkled through out the tape.
For the first time it’s hard to recommend a single track, b/c they all deserve several listens. If we have to mention a few, then “Wonder Why,” “GoodBye,” “The Sun,” “Warwick Avenue,” “Sharp,” “Rather Be -for Vagina lovers”(and misogynists too, might I add). Of course, this review could go on and on, but who really wants to read a dissertation that describes a dissertation? No one. Download Back to the Feature immediately, and if you feel your brain start to ache, just know that it’s your idea of hip hop expanding beyond what it was and currently is, in to something both reminiscent of the past, but also telling of the future. The Couch Sessions is no Cleo, but we undoubtedly know that hip hop’s future will feature, the DMV’s own lyrical time traveler, the ever witty, Wale.
“keeping the pen bleeding and the cursor blinking…”
(originally posted on The Glass House DC, by k.scribe)