The Breaks: This Week in DMV Hip-Hop
It’s June's final Friday, so we’re going to do something a little different with the Breaks this week. This edition features reflections on Wale’s Back to the Feature mixtape five years later, new visuals from Nike Nando and Rahiem Supreme, and a few words about the Dipset performance at Echostage tonight.
Back to Wale’s Back to the Feature
In June 2009, Wale released his long-awaited collaborative mixtape, Back to the Feature, with producer 9th Wonder. As indicated by the title, Wale was joined by at least one other artist on every track, with features including Black Thought of the Roots, J.Cole, Curren$y, UCB, Memphis Bleek, Big Sean, Bun B, every member of Slaughterhouse except for Crooked I, and more performing on beats crafted largely by 9th Wonder. Back to the Feature stands out five years later because I can vividly remember the months of anticipation leading up to its release, as well as the fact that it was the final project Wale put out before his debut album, Attention: Deficit, dropped that November.
Wale’s career was in an interesting, transitional place at this time. He was a year removed from his breakthrough, The Mixtape About Nothing, and had been included as part of XXL’s Freshmen class just months prior. His fanbase largely consisted of the Rock the Bells crowd, a crowd Wale rendered slightly bewildered in March with the release of his lead single, "Chillin," on which he was flanked by bizarre pop chanteuse Lady Gaga.
Other difficult-to-classify artists were emerging, as well. Kid Cudi had blown up off the strength of "Day 'n' Night" and his contributions to Kanye West’s sad boy Bible, 808s & Heartbreak. J.Cole had signed to Jay-Z’s Roc Nation imprint and released The Warm Up mixtape just days before Back to the Feature. Then there’s case of Drake, who had the radio in a full nelson with So Far Gone’s "Best I Ever Had" and "Successful." The game wasn’t as wide open as it was in 2008, and with the response to "Chillin" lukewarm at best, Wale had to remind everyone why his praises were being sung just a year before. Back to the Feature was that reminder, but it also closed the chapter on the first phase of his career—a development that divided his fans.
According to some critics, there are two Wales: pre-Attention: Deficit Wale, and the star you’re familiar with today. On a fundamental level, that’s true. He’s a different artist now than the one who said, "This is only for the hip-hop lovers...you want that bullshit, turn the radio on" on Back to the Feature’s "5 Minutes," because he’s a radio darling in 2014. There’s a change that happened after the commercial failure of Attention: Deficit, his unceremonious exit from Interscope records, and the release of his second album, Ambition. That change is his signing to Rick Ross’ Maybach Music Group in early 2011. It was another decision his core fanbase frowned upon, but the reality is that if he didn’t make the move, he wouldn’t be a Grammy nominee who, just a year ago, released his first No. 1 album. It’s arguable that there’d be no Wale instead of two.
Many are quick to brand Wale a sellout; others argue that he had little choice but to sign with MMG and resuscitate his career. Regardless, there are still remnants of Back to the Feature-era Wale in his new music. Picture The Gifted’s "LoveHate Thing" featuring Black Thought—a huge Wale influence and Back to the Feature guest—backed by the Roots. It’s the exact same song. Furthermore, Wale has promised to revisit the principles that endeared him to hip-hop nerds across the globe as he works on the upcoming Album About Nothing:
More about nothin . Back to the basics . For y'all . Swear
— Wale Folarin (@Wale) May 26, 2014
Linkin back wit bks and Osinachi .. — Wale Folarin (@Wale) May 26, 2014
Whether you’re a nostalgia junkie like me or just want to hear good music, revisit Back to the Feature and relive the feeling of June 2009. Just know that as you’re doing that, Wale is somewhere trying to do the same, but perfect it.
The Good Old Days of Hilfiger
"Hilfiger," the first video from Nike Nando’s ICON: Lord of the Flyy mixtape, will trip you out. It’s not Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas weird, but the Deuce The Music-directed clip definitely matches the song’s laid-back vibe, and the sunset scenes are exceptionally beautiful. Nando is joined by a Cayan on the track, and D.C. rapper Rahiem Supreme makes a special appearance in the video as well.
Listen to Rahiem Supreme
Speaking of Rahiem Supreme, he also released a video for "JL2M (Just Listen to Me)" this week. If you’re familiar with Supreme’s past work, you know that he’s the thinking man’s rapper. I don’t want to compare him to TDE’s Ab-Soul because I feel like such comparisons are devoid of creativity, but they’re in the same lane. That means intricate lyrics that require multiple listenings and strong visuals. "JL2M," directed by XAVIA, is filled with the latter. Supreme is one of the most talented artists in the area that no one is talking about, yet should be. The beat might owe a small creative debt to "Incarcerated Scarfaces," but fans of ‘90s hip-hop will love it. Look out for Supreme’s Lost Gemz project, which is coming eventually. In the interim, just listen to him.
Dipset Reunion Show
The Diplomats—Cam’ron, Jim Jones, Juelz Santana, and Freekey Zekey—often have a contentious relationship, but they get back together to reap the financial benefits, and because fans really like to revisit 2002-2006. They also want to hear "Dipset Anthem," a wonderfully obnoxious mid-aughts gem, live. Tonight, they perform at Echostage. The doors open at 9, and tickets are about $35.