You Will Soon Have Wale's 'Attention.' (Maybe)
If the buzz surrounding Wale seems like it's been building forever, that's because it has. Two years ago -- an eternity in the digital music era -- a Post headline dubbed the Bowie-based rapper who is bidding to become the region's first national star "The Great Rap Hope."
Since then, Wale has signed to Interscope Records, inked a management deal with Jay-Z's Roc Nation and appeared on a dizzying number of tracks and free mixtapes, including his wildly received, Seinfeld-inspired 2008 giveaway, "Mixtape About Nothing."
One thing Wale Folarin hasn't done: Release a proper album. But his official debut, "Attention: Deficit," is finally -- if tentatively -- due for an August release.
Wale headlines a Rock the Vote concert Wednesday at the 9:30 club, where he'll be backed by the go-go greats, UCB. The bill features a couple of other nascent D.C. rap stars, Tabi Bonney and XO, on the undercard.
Wale ("My name Wah-LAY/Don't say Wall-LEE") called from the eye of his promotional hurricane, which has even blown him onto ESPN's airwaves.
Rumor has it that you finally have an album coming out.
Yeah, man, the rumors are true. This summer.
Is it done yet, or are you still tweaking it and hiding out from your A&R dude?
(Laughs.) Nah, it's done. I'm just trying to set up all the things that need to be set up to create awareness outside of the area.
You're already kind of ubiquitous between all those remixes and featured guest spots you've been doing, plus your mixtapes. But since "Attention: Deficit" is your official debut, did you treat it like an introductory album?
I said my name about 20 times with the first single ("Chillin'," a collaboration with chart-topping pop tart Lady Gaga). There's a wider audience that doesn't know who I am, doesn't even know that there's any rappers from the D.C. area. I'm just trying to get the next wider and reel more people in.
Between free downloads, your Twitter fixation and all the blogs that keep writing about you, the internet has been great for your buzz- and brand-building. Could the Wale hype have reached its current levels in the pre-downloading/social networking era?
Without the internet, I don't think anybody can do it in this day and age. Even the most street rapper in the world, Gucci Mane, owes the internet a little bit of credit to the phenomenon that he is. Without the internet, he'd just be, like, the hottest rapper in Atlanta. But now he's the hottest rapper in Atlanta, the South, Ohio, the Midwest.
(Read more after the jump.)
Why did you feel like you needed to get with a major label? What can they offer you that you couldn't otherwise get for yourself?
It makes the microphone bigger. Theoretically, I mean; that's the metaphor. My voice is just the voice of D.C.-Maryland-Virginia. But a label can make my voice the voice of young hip-hop culture in a sense. I'm not saying that everybody's going to love or like what I'm doing. By no means. But it gives me the ability to reach a lot of people. And it makes the job easier at the end of the day. You have people that get paid to, like, help you put your stuff out there rather than DIY. That's kind of the way I started; I got into the game as do-it-yourself. This gives me more time to focus on the music.
And they got you Lady Gaga!
Yeah, but who knows? I might have been able to pull that off without the label.
The news that you were working with her surprised a lot of folks, including me. How did that happen?
It was just me feeling the beat and knowing that I needed somebody real fun and carefree, because the record is just fun. And I wanted something different. I didn't want to use anybody who's been out there on the rap scene. No rapper has used Lady Gaga on a record. It was me just trying to break the barriers of genres and cultures and colors and kind of making it an event.
You were on the cover of XXL magazine's Top 10 Freshman issue. Are you a competitive dude, hoping to crush the other rising stars -- Charles Hamilton, Kid Cudi, B.O.B. and those dudes -- in sales and respect?
We are competitive. All of us. But, like, Cudi's a good friend of mine; we talk every day. We understand that we gotta do this together to preserve the culture. We gotta do things to motivate the culture and to progress. That's the most important thing, rather than who sells the most or who gets the most accolades.
So what did Cudi say when he took you out in Vibe's Best Rapper Ever poll?
You know, we haven't even talked about that. It was just a contest to see who was going to lose to Eminem in the next round anyway. (Laughs.) It's all good. I didn't pay attention to it that much. I'm just honored that Vibe even acknowledged what I was doing.
To do what you do, you have to have a lot of confidence and swagger. How do you see your own abilities vis-a-vis the other rappers out there? Like, where do you put yourself on the big list?
I don't really look at it as a list. I kind of have tunnel vision, man. I try to focus on what I have to do in my objective, which is to make the best possible music I can make and be real with myself. Hopefully, I can connect with people who understand my vision, which is to preserve hip-hop culture and make music that I feel is real. I can look at myself in the mirror and know that I'm not really trying to poison any communities or poison the minds of the children. But I also want to have fun. I'm definitely not trying to be a preacher or anything like that.
What kind do you do to improve your craft? Do you study and dissect what other artists do with their writing and flows?
I definitely read as much as I can and listen to a lot of artists that I think are interesting, like a K'Naan or a J. Cole or a Cudi. Not to mimic them or or anything, but just to get inspired. But I can get inspired by listening to Marvin Gaye or Stevie Wonder, or a Jodeci or SWV, too. I get inspired by music, movies, pop culture, sports, whatever the case may be.
Do you talk with other artists about what you're doing? Like, are you ever on the phone with Black Thought until 6 in the morning, talking about the craft?
I talk with Bun B. occasionally. I might talk about, like: "That cadence was dope." I'm a hip-hop nerd. A lot of people in rap probably don't even know they have a cadence like this person or that person. They probably don't even know where they got that style from. I respect certain things in the culture like that.
You'll be touring this summer with probably your most famous fan, Jay-Z. Forget the fight over the best-rapper-alive crown. Jay is the best rapper live. Period. How can you compete with that?
It's the competitive spirit. Jay is the man. That's the mentor, that's the boss, el padrino. He's all of those things. He's the godfather, the dude. My thing is, I always want to show the people that are in business with me that they made the right decision. For Jay to take me under the wing and bring me to Roc Nation on a management level is an honor. I gotta make sure that he knows he made the right decision. I want him to be like: Yo, I'm still successful. I got this dude who's one of the most talented new artists touring and he's making the Roc Nation brand look good. And also I'm trying to take Jay-Z's head off on a performance level. Maybe there's only 6,000 people at a 50,000-people venue when I get up there. But I'ma try to have 6,001 of them be new fans after the show.
No pressure, but everybody's looking to you to become D.C.'s first breakout rap star.
If I'm the breakout, I'm sure there'll be somebody after me that'll be bigger than me. All I can do is take what comes with being the first: the love and the hate, the skepticism and things of that nature. I try to take it all in. But I'm not telling nobody that I'm the best rapper in D.C. Not at all. There's so many talented musicians in D.C. I'm just representing them.
Are you trying to bring up the scene with "Attention: Deficit"? Like, is Tabi Bonney gonna be on it? XO? SE Slim?
I kind of kept it about me on this one. I feel like I have so much to say. And it's going to pave the way for a lot of people, whether they like it or not or know it or not. I just wanted to make sure I conveyed my vision as concisely as possible, so I kept the features down. That's what the "Back to the Feature" mixtape that I'm tentatively releasing this summer is about.
Off the dome: Your Top 5 D.C. singers/musicians of all-time?
Not in any order: Marvin. Raheem DeVaughn. Roberta Flack. Amerie. And Mya. Oh, and Tank and Ginuwine.
You've been all over the Capitals, even aligning yourself with Alex Ovechkin. Will you ever get on the Nationals bandwagon, or do you only roll with winners? Because they're pretty awful.
(Laughs.) I don't just roll with winners. But, you know, the Nationals, that's a new team. I didn't start hearing about the Nationals until I was fully grown and I'd made my decision. I grew up being an Orioles fan. That's all I knew. I'm wearing a Nationals fitted (cap) right now. But that's moreso for what they stand for, being a D.C. team. Honestly, I'm not really a baseball fan that much. But I support them. I root for them when I'm flipping the channels and they're playing. I'm a big, big Redskins fan, though. I have a lot of sad Mondays. But I see better days ahead.
By J. Freedom du Lac |
June 2, 2009; 10:18 PM ET
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