Interview Feature: Wale – Pay Attention
by Winston "Stone" Ford
June 3rd, 2009. As Wale stood on stage at Washington DC’s venerable 9:30 Club, an emotional rush came over him. The 25-year old rapper went from selling CDs out of the back of his car, to selling out one of the East Coast’s largest nightclubs. And with his upcoming release of his major label album, Attention Deficit, the journey of Wale has come full circle.
But it hasn’t been all roses for the MC. His album suffered multiple date pushbacks, Internet haters seemed to never go away, and people from his own hometown (aka The DMV) haven’t given him the respect that he deserves for putting the region on the map.
But all will be settled on today, November 10th, when his major label debut, Attention Deficit, drops to the masses.
Even though DC is steeped in go-go history, and has had chart-topping artists break from the area before, (think Mya and Good Charlotte to name a few), nobody has held the DMV on his back as much as Wale. The summertime hometown concert was his return to the area after months of national and worldwide touring. “It was great man. The energy from the crowd was crazy. It was kind of emotional,” Wale says as he speaks of that night at 9:30. “I remember going up Georgia Avenue selling CDs after work, or driving around in an 89 Camry trying to record, trying to do all the things that are necessary, and now I’m selling out shows.”
That show, which also included local MCs Tabi Bonney, Phil Ade, and XO, signaled a new direction for the DMV hip-hop scene. Once considered a no-man’s land by the industry, that night signaled a change for the local hip-hop scene. DC was on the worldwide musical map.
Wale has had an interesting history. Bred into a new hip-hop era of the Internet, the MC has had more tracks in digital form then most rapper’s complete career output. As for musical tastes, the MC has rapped over everything from go-go beats to French Pop electro. “I’ve always been a fan of music, and I’ve always been a writer, so I listened to everything man, even Kris Kross when I was a little kid growing up. Basically everybody with a microphone.” Even though Wale was a fan of all hip-hop, he really too a liking to go-go. “Rare Essence, Backyard Band, Chuck Brown, all of ‘em, “he says “I was 14 years old when I found out that go-go was only a DC thing. I thought that it was all over the world.”
It was the go-go tracks “Uptown Roamers,” “1 Thing About A Playa,” and “Dig Dug,” that got Wale the most attention in the DMV scene, the latter becoming one of the most requested tracks on local radio. However it wasn’t until a meeting with UK producer Mark Ronson that his career completely took off. “He heard my music, liked what he heard, and brought me on tour shortly after,” he nonchalantly says as he run down the spots in the UK that Ronson opens doors for him. With Ronson, Wale represented the DMV all over the world, from huge festivals in Australia to the BBC Electric Proms in London.
In addition to touring the world with Ronson, doors were opened for Wale and his band, UCB to tour the nation as well, spreading the go-go sound from Minnesota to California. “we hit 40 cities and the response was pretty good. But it’s not just the Wale sound, it’s the go-go sound, so I’m just contributing to the DC culture.” Highlights of the tour included a NYC date which was attended by his Roc Nation boss Jay-Z as well as Leonardo DiCaprio. The sold out show was a great moment for the DMV.
But with all of Wale’s success there are the haters. Ever since his career took off he’s had naysayers. They doubt his authenticity, as a dude from the suburbs trying to represent the inner city. They hate on his rejection of the “typical” DMV channels. And most people they are just downright jealous that Wale was given the baton instead of them. “Forget the haters man,” Wale says as he tries to dismiss the situation. Even though he was nonchalant in his interview, his anger and frustration about the lack of hometown love, from his lack of local radio airplay (and a stunt by WKYS mocking him), to the constant barrage of people hoping for his demise. “It’s all good,” he says.
After a career that spans almost 5 years and multiple major label quality mixtapes under his belt, it all comes down to his November 10th release, Attention Deficit. The album, which brings in everybody from Gucci Mane to Somali/Canadian rapper K’Naan, is the highlight of the rapper’s career. From the jump, Wale tried to craft an album that brought together his DMV roots with the mainstream production that gets radio airplay and wins awards. “I’m all about what sounds good, and if I like the sound its just a no-brainer,” he says about his album. As rappers like Jay-Z, Em, and Nas enter their 40s, the industry is looking to Wale to be the new torch bearer for the new hip-hop generation.
Attention Deficit drops today and whether you love him or hate him, you have to respect the fact that this is a great look for the DC area. He has brought the culture of the DMV from the back alleys of Georgia Avenue to iPods in Sweden. I’ll be copping multiple copies of his album. Will you?