INTERVIEW: WALE HEARTS WASHINGTON

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“I love you, DC.”

No, not the beginning of an ode to the initials of Beyoncé and backing, but the start of Olubowale Akintimehin’s splendiferous rhyme – placed lovingly atop the instrumental of Justice’s “D.A.N.C.E.” Yes, Wale reps DC. Yes, he’s in league (tenuous at times) with super-producer Mark Ronson (and yes, the beef in a teacup with Semtex is over). If you don’t want to know more about him, look away now.

“You gotta have a street presence,” he says. “That was rapping with different Go-Go bands and that’s what I did. The current scene in DC is competitive. Very competitive. Every man for himself, although we attempt to have unity. Growing up in DC I was all over the place, man. I was very influenced by a lot of different things and my parents weren’t always around so I had to learn as I went, from the streets or friends or whatever. It wasn’t that rough like crazy or nothing like that, you learn from your friends and learn as you go.”

XO, Oddisee, Southeast Slim, Proverb
and Mo Betta – rap artists he reels off a mental rollerdex without a stutter. DC is coming up like liquor on an empty stomach with one of the brightest new voices in Hip Hop as their champion.

Born and raised in the capital, Wale made a name for himself with guest appearances on singles with Daniel Merriweather, Chrisette Michelle, Duffy and Kid Cudi. A name further buoyed by his unmistakably DC branded yearly mixtapes – Paint a Picture (2005), Hate Is the New Love (2006), 100 Miles & Running (2007), The Mixtape About Nothing (2008) and the 2009 release Back to the Feature with 9th Wonder. “It’s just collaborative Hip Hop”, he says. “That’s the one phrase I can put it. It ain’t really too much over-thinking, it ain’t really a conceptual mixtape, it’s just collaborative Hip Hop.”

Mixtapes bubble up from the underground to the mainstream bringing with them the artist and a die-hard following. So how does Wale feel representing DC in the mainstream? “It’s natural. Hip Hop is very territorial. There’s not a rapper out there that doesn’t remind you where he’s from. I’ve just been fortunate enough to have exposure. I’ve been lucky enough to work with producers like Mark (Ronson). I think he’s one of the most intelligent producers and he gets several genres. And I think Hip Hop is evolving to be more than just boom bap, so I feel like he got that early. He used to give me a lot of advice! [laughs] but Mark’s been missing man, he’s been missing in action recently but he’s a good dude, he’s just been real busy.”

Before meeting Ronson, Wale had already made musical magic. His track “Dig Dug (Shake It)” was one of the most requested by a local act in DC radio history. With his first album, Attention Deficit (Allido/Interscope) dropping this year, 2009 promises to be a big year for the sneaker freak. Any first album nerves? “I think the package is already is perfect – and I believe that in my heart of hearts”

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“The album is gonna be lyrical, it’s gonna be creative, it’s gonna be interesting, it’s gonna be love, it’s gonna be hate, it’s gonna be war, it’s gonna be sex, it’s gonna be drama – it’s all the things that happen in real life – real emotion, insecurity; things that a lot of rappers don’t really talk about. Real life. Everything that you’ve been seeing on these mixtapes – lyricism, creativity, colour and fashion.”

The timing for a first album is just right in his mind too. “I signed my record deal about a year ago; it takes a while to make a record. This ain’t about a record, it’s about a brand – and it takes a while for that. A lot of songs that come out because they’re just a song to be enjoyed for the time being, this is about a brand, this is about somebody that will hopefully be around for a while… I thought things would be easier with a record deal. That passed in the first month – you gotta work, you gotta get on the road, you get what you put in. and that’s what I’ve been trying to put in – a lot – because you get what you put in. I’m happy at Allido (All I Do) Records. They let me do what I wanna do, or what I need to do. I try to sleep as much as I can. Right now I’ve got a headache ‘cause I ain’t ate, I’m with my publicist on the way to DC now and we’ve just been working for the past 20-something hours, just going at it. You get what you put in.”

Wale could be accused of being too soft in his rapping. Though lyrically high calibre, his ‘square-peg’ style could have lead to him being labelled as a hip-pop artist (think Nelly, Flo-Rida). Coming from a city famed for polar opposites – Washington had one of the highest murder rates in the US during the ‘80s and Reagan. So can he be darker? Says Wale, “’Family Affair’ [on Back To The Feature] is all shades of it. From a narrative perspective that’s as dark as you’re gonna get. I think it’s not the life I lived, I don’t live in shade.”

Wale can be dark and he can fit into the traditional rapper mould if the mood takes him. In early 2009, he (in)famously ‘tweeted’, “am I the only artist who hates doing interviews??” on Twitter while being interviewed. A while later and during a different interview, BBC Radio 1Xtra DJ Semtex happened upon the tweet and asked him about it. True to form, it was blown up out of proportion and, as with most differences of opinion in Hip Hop, became beef.

So, does Wale ever regret saying things publicly? “I learned from it. I learned that my voice is very powerful. Everyday I’m realising really important people are following me – like, even you are following me. This person from the UK who’s a writer has been following me the whole time and without thinking I could have been offensive. Now I know my voice is powerful and that must mean I’m making some noise. Like when I do a live show. Honestly, I promise you I’ve never had a bad gig. I leave it all onstage, they (the fans) deserve it man. There have been shows that a lot of people haven’t been at but I always give it my all. I drive myself. A lot of my peers got big named dudes; they have fans that they borrowed essentially from bigger entities. Mines is by myself, I have no defining moment of my career where I became a star, or no song that propelled me to be a star, it’s just everything that I’ve been doing combined and I think that’s making my fans feel so much a part of it.”

We think Attention Deficit is going to make a lot of hip hop sit up and pay attention.

www.walemusic.com

Roger “The Writer” Ajogbe

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