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At this point, we can probably call Wale’s Board Administration a success. Founded in 2009, the imprint has helped the rapper keep a local footprint even as his national profile has grown over the last year. And the Board deserves at least some credit for the fast rise of Fat Trel, who released his 2010 breakthrough No Secrets through the label before the two parted ways six months later.
Then there’s Black Cobain—who released his debut mixtape, Now, the same day as No Secrets, but who’s never made headlines like Trel or Wale. Instead, Cobain’s remained a sidekick—a decent rapper with some tangible skills, but one who’s never strayed far from Wale’s shadow.
In fact, Cobain—real name Marcus Gloster—might be complacent staying there, judging by his latest mixtape, Cheers. On many of the tape’s 16 tracks, his delivery—with its nasal infliction and broken sentence flow—is almost indistinguishable from Wale’s. And like his mentor, who broke out in 2008 with the Seinfeld-themed The Mixtape About Nothing, Cobain has turned to a classic sitcom for inspiration. He even brags about his sidekick perch: “If Ralph’s Jordan,” Cobain rhymes on “Epiphany,” “I’m cool with being Scottie Pippen.” (Ralph is Wale’s nickname.)
True to the title, Cheers’ mood is largely boozy and festive; sonically, it mostly comprises methodical trunk rattlers with bouncy synths. At the onset, you get the sense Cobain is in a good place, all while he’s embracing his haters and running through his recent accomplishments. “It’s so ironic I named the tape Cheers,” he says at the beginning of “Epiphany,” “then I fucked around and spent four weeks in London performing at the Royal Ballet. Who does shit like that?”
Well, Wale does—although he pulled out of producer Mark Ronson’s Carbon Life ballet, which also featured pop acts like Boy George and Miike Snow, in order open up D.C.’s Howard Theatre. Cobain kept the commitment.
While a Wale guest verse and a music-video cameo by Rick Ross may have helped Cobain’s 2011 single “4 A.M.” earn its shine, the 26-year-old rapper has shown flashes of individuality. On his last mixtape, Young, Gifted and Black, Cobain sounded more comfortable running through his biography: changes at the Board, his ascension up the local rap ranks. And the tape’s political agitations and spiritual themes meshed well with its hazy soul backdrop.
On Cheers, Cobain is content to the point of intertia. In “Scotty Pippen,” he rhymes about smoking weed and crusing around the city over a wash of West Coast-style synths.In “Let Me Know,” he asks: “You tryna smoke, nigga? You tryna drink, bitch? You tryna fuck, hoe? You need that G shit?” There are sneaker shout-outs; there’s the odd club jam.
But when Cobain waves away the pothead haze, it’s usually to ride shotgun to his label boss. On “Penalty of Leadership,” he invokes Wale’s 2011 Ambition album: “How can a nigga be around a nigga with ambition, and not wanna be this damn ambitious?”
“Ambition” isn’t the right word for Cheers, which occasionally highlights Cobain’s lyrical prowess but is mostly too blandly raucous-sounding and thematically laid-back for an MC still trying to find his way. Nothing’s wrong with learning from your mentor, but for how long? Wale’s stamp is evident here. What about Black Cobain’s?