Wale Leaves Washington
Published July 31, 2009
Washington, D.C. isn’t exactly known as a hip-hop capital, but Wale (“Wah-LAY”) is on track to change that. Having already collaborated with Lil’ Wayne and Lady Gaga, the 24-year-old mixmaster says he’s trying to “erase the past from our brains” with his upcoming album, “Attention Deficit.” We caught up with him recently at the Hudson Hotel’s Private Park, where he performed as part of a series organized by Svedka, Morgans Hotels, and music promoters Giant Step. (For the next show, Peter Bjorn and John will be performing at LA’s Skybar on August 18.) Read on to learn how “Seinfeld” affects his fashion choices, why working with Mark Ronson is like “boot camp,” and how Wale’s rise in the music world has (supposedly) hurt his game.
DARRELL HARTMAN: You’re kitted out in Mets gear tonight. Are you a fan?
WALE: I’m so detached from baseball, so I don’t even have no preference at all. I just like good players.
DH: So in this case, Keith Hernandez?
WALE: The thing about the Keith Hernandez jersey is the “Seinfeld” episode. He’s on there.
DH: That one where he becomes friends with Jerry, right?
WALE: The magic loogie
DH: So we’re in New York. Where have your best shows been?
DH: One of my best shows was in DC, one was in Virginia, one was in North Carolina, one was in Chicago. I got so much love for Chicago, man. My man Hustle Simmons out there, I actually know two Hustle Simmonses, but my guy Hustle Simmons from Chicago is one of my good dudes. He’s like family. I got so much love for Chicago. I go to the little ‘hood spots and just chill and it’s all love. It feels like home, really.
DH: Why do you think that is?
WALE: I have no idea. Everybody’s big on fashion, sneakers, you know, Louis, Gucci, Nike, Jordan, shit like that. Very heavy on it. It’s just a vibe out there that’s incredible. And the dudes at [streetwear boutique] Leaders , those are my people. Like Commonwalth, that’s my family family.
DH: You’re from DC, and during your set you called it “Obamatown.” Has it started to feel like a new city lately?
WALE: Everything’s pretty consistent in the industry, you know. There’s a couple of naysayers, whatever, people who don’t agree. But for the most part a lot of people believe in the new class of MC’s that coming to the game. We are a growing force. I don’t want us to be the next New York, I want us to be the next Chicago.
DH: What’s the difference?
WALE: In New York, it seems like a lot of people are doing it. Some of them are great, some of them aren’t really that good. But everybody who made it out of Chicago is bringing something to the table: Twista, Lupe, Kanye, Crucial Conflict.
DH: Would you say your sound is influenced by southern and east-coast hip hop?
WALE: No, we got to erase the past from our brains. We gotta usher in something totally fresh. I feel like you could put Wayne in the greatest-of-all-time category. Say what you want, people don’t appreciate greatness until it’s gone. Wayne’s one of the best to do it.
DH: Have you met him?
WALE: Yeah, on the “Nike Boot” remix.
DH: You’re on Mark Ronson’s label. What’s it like working with him?
WALE: I love him to death, he’s like a big brother to me. But it’s fucking boot camp with Mark. We’re laid-back, smoke weed, you know what I’m saying? Like, having bitches in the studio. Like, rap shit. Laid-back, and we come up with these dope ideas. And Mark is like, “Yo, the R enunciation on that second bar, you need to redo it again. You can do it better.” All together it makes an incredible album, though.
DH: So Mark Ronson is detail-oriented.
WALE: Oh, oh my god. He’s retarded.
DH: How did he find out about you?
WALE: He found me through a CD. I don’t even know how he got it. It was weird. Divine intervention, I guess.
DH: And you recorded with Lady Gaga. How was that?
WALE: It was good. She’s very intense in the studio, let’s leave it at that. She’s part of that boot camp.
DH: She knows what she wants?
WALE: Oh, absolutely. It was everything that I thought it was gonna be, but more.
DH: What are you doing next?
WALE: We’re doing a crazy college tour. We got about six or seven [shows] the firstmonth of college, coming back.
DH: Your parents were both Nigerian. Would you say that’s a major factor in who you are?
WALE: Absolutely. I’m very proud of my Nigerian heritage. I wasn’t fortunate enough to be raised in a heavy Nigerian environment, because my parents were always working. My father was with DC Cabs and my mother worked in fast food and was a nurse. We lived in a one-bedroom apartment in Northwest DC. I was essentially raised by a Panamanian man and a Jamaican woman. That’s why I have such a fascination with Jamaican food.
DH: Quite a mix of ethnic influences, then.
WALE: It adds to it. My whole life is ADD. It’s all over the place.
DH: And before you made it in music, you worked in a shoe store, right?
WALE: Yup, and Sprint.
DH: What was that like?
WALE: Working every day. I had to drink black coffee every morning ‘cuz i wasso tired. You know, I was out hustling the night before, heavy. And I had to go to work.
WALE: Getting my music out, getting my name out there in the clubs. Talkingto the girls, letting them know, like, “Look, baby, support me, I ‘m gonna bebig.”
DH: And did they?
WALE: I had pretty good game back then. Moreso than I got now.
DH: Wait, success made your game worse? WALE: You know, I’m very honest. I don’t act like a celebrity, so that kindof hurts sometimes. I don’t really talk about myself. So they don’t know who I am.
DH: Where do you think hip hop is headed?
WALE: Who knows? I know it’s all over the place right now. People are very stingy with their attention spans. But I don’t concern myself with what everybody else is doing. I just know I have the best album.
DH: Which one?
WALE: The one that’s about to come out September 22. “Attention Deficit.”
DH: What are you doing between now and then?
WALE: Grinding, just like day one. I’m only 24 now, so I have a long way to go. I just want to establish myself as a credible MC and a consistent rapper that makes good music.
DH: Are you happy with where you are now?
WALE: I’m never satisfied, man. I’m Virgo. We overanalyze and we’re never satisfied. So I’m gonna keep going ‘til the wheels fall off.