Review Summary: A great- albeit not amazing- effort from the self-proclaimed underdog.
Can changing record labels have a noticeable effect on an artist's style? With his latest mixtape, The Eleven One Eleven Theory
, Wale brings us an answer that isn't nearly as tragic as listeners predicted. While some artists branch out just far enough to distort fans, Wale successfully manages to satisfy fans of all kinds of rap genres.
Despite what the title would have you believe, 11-1-11 isn't tailored around any real 'theory' at all- it's just the date of his upcoming LP. The last time Wale released a mixtape without an ongoing theme (*cough* Back To The Feature
*cough*), the results were a fairly mixed bag. The same is, for the most part, true this time; however, Wale has stepped up his game a bit, delivering a tighter, more consistent release despite the different branches of hip-hop he pursues. His strengths, namely his impressive lyricism, good ear for production, and tight delivery are all in place. His weaknesses crop up throughout the album as well, but not enough to cripple the release.
The main fear fans expressed was the fear of Wale turning into another Rick Ross, trading longevity for instant gratification and club-banging tracks. The truth is, Wale always had a penchant for the bragging his fans seem to dread, but those rhymes felt out of place on previous tracks with more serious subject matter. With 11-1-11, Wale has learned to leave these rhymes where they belong- on braggadocious tracks like "Globetrotter" and "Barry Sanders". These tracks, while enjoyable, sound like nothing more than an outlet for the bragging that doesn't fit in anywhere else. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but one can easily tell that Wale's heart is really in the more serious tracks like "Ambitious Girl 2" (featuring a very boring J. Holiday hook) and "The Podium".
Lovers of Wale's extended metaphors will love tracks like "Passive Agress-her" and "Mother Nature", but these are placed after less-interesting cuts like "Chain Music" and "*** You", bringing another aspect of the album into question. The order of the songs seems to break the album up into smaller pieces rather than flow smoothly like More About Nothing
, for instance. "Barry Sanders" sounds completely out of place after "Mother Nature", while "Underdog" and "Podium" seem like apologies for the the two preceding tracks. The latter track does, however, bring the mixtape to a nice close- a commendable feat given the tape's general lack of focus. No, that last sentence isn't stating the obvious; Wale has actually managed to increase
his focus on a verse-by-verse basis (cutting out a lot of the unnecessary and rarely-rhyming rambling), but the tape as a whole feels aimless.
In fact, that's exactly what 11-1-11 is; an interesting- if empty- prelude to Ambition. That's just fine, considering it's just a mixtape, but it feels like a missed opportunity after seeing what he did with Mixtape About Nothing
. Still, this is a pretty fine collection of songs, and Wale has mostly alleviated any concerns of deviation from his area of expertise. A great tape in its own right, The 11-1-11 Theory at the very least will have you wondering where Wale will go with Ambition.