Wally Hart, aka WhatUpWally?, tapped some of Cincinnati’s best rappers, beatsmiths and vocalists for his debut album, Pandemic. Spanning across 14 tracks and picking up assists from over 15 MCs – not to mention another seven producers – the sharply-made effort cuts through the noise of other quarantine offerings and provides relevant, outspoken takes, rooted in a love for hip hop.
Pandemic was created during Cincinnati’s COVID-19 stay-at-home mandate, with WhatUpWally? first approaching fellow artists with the idea in early March. In what ended up being a four-month process, the album’s many collaborators would send track recordings to each other via Dropbox or work at opposite ends of the studio, the hip hop aficionado/music educator told Audiofemme.
“The result is a full coherent concept album with 26 collaborators that is meant to be listened to from front to back, in order,” Hart wrote on Facebook. “The mood of the album represents the mood of various times during the pandemic.”
“I thought we were going to end Pandemic on a happy and optimistic note so I sent out a beat to AC [the Entity], SamSun, [Sharp.One], and Wonder [Brown] and asked them to write something with a hopeful tone to end the album with. That was it. The album was finished and it was dark with an optimistic ending,” Hart says, but in the wake of continued police brutality that sparked “the beginning of the largest civil rights movement in the nation’s history, we had to go in and rewrite the ending.”
The police killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd and the likely racially-motivated murder of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery are most felt in the album’s “Outro” and bonus track, “XPac,” which samples a speech by Malcolm X and interview with Tupac. WhatUpWally? also offers a razor-sharp analysis of systemic racism, oppression and economic disparity in the stinging “Capitalism Kills.”
Besides timely boldness, the album stands out in its sonic diversity. Boasting a wide range of talent, Pandemic has songs for classic hip hop lovers and contemporary fans alike, with the unifying factor being thoughtful lyricism. Scratching and nostalgic flows are on full display in the opening “Cincinnati Cypher” and “Use Your Sword.” A few places down the tracklist, “Duke Energy” stands out as a new-school melodic high-point, where Khari and Spirit swap bars about cutting the negative energy out of their lives.
“Some really dope art is coming out of this time,” Hart noted to Audiofemme. On Facebook, he added that Pandemic is a “representation” of these times and, he hopes, will provide a reflective listening experience.
Check out the album on Bandcamp and see the full tracklist below.