Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1101

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Wale: Young, Gifted & Rap

Wale Wale Wale

With his current, third album “The Gifted” having impressively debuted at Number One on both the US mainstream and R&B charts, Grammy-nominated rapper Wale - whose origins lie in the colourful backstreets of Washington DC - this month releases the set’s first UK single, the Marvin Gaye-influenced/Sam Dew-featuring “LoveHate Thing”. Whose shuffling, fingersnapping groove typifies said LP’s emphasis on a more vibrant, emotion- evoking soundbed of live instrumentation and retro samples.

Indeed, with “The Gifted” (whose list of guest-artists prestigiously range from such contemporary R&B/pop superstars as Rihanna, CeeLo Green and Ne-Yo to modern-day rap icons like Nicki Minaj, Rick Ross and Wiz Khalifa) bringing on board Stokley Williams - frontman of seasoned, self-contained R&B band Mint Condition - as one of its prominent writer/producers, its soulful vibe comfortably finds old-skool-flavoured tracks like the haunting, Stevie Wonder-sampling “Sunshine” and confessional, Tiara Thomas-featuring US R&B Top Five single “Bad” sitting happily alongside harder straight-up hip hop cuts like the uptempo strip-club anthem “Clappers” and darkly sparse, 2 Chainz-featuring “Rotation”.

Born Olubowale Victor Akintimehin in Washington to Nigerian immigrant parents in September 1984, Wale (pronounced “wah-lay”) cut his teeth in the unforgiving northwest district of DC before, with his parents desperate to find quieter environs, moving with his family to the Maryland suburbs while in his teens. Which in turn would ultimately result in him spending time in no less than seven different High Schools scattered about the DC/Maryland area!

Going on to earn a football scholarship to Robert Morris College and later Virginia State University, the young, multi-talented Wale would initially start out making a go of higher education. Nevertheless, realising his heart ultimately lay in rapping and performing, 2004 would find him dropping out of school to pursue a career in music full-time; his first taste of success arriving in 2006 when his track “Dig Dug (Shake It)” became the most requested song by a local artist in Washington DC radio history.

However, it was actually the street-level success of his independent 2007 record “Good Girls” that would finally attract the attention of Grammy-winning super-producer Mark Ronson. Who - impressed with the East Coast rapper’s laid-back flow and skilful wordplay - would eventually end up signing Wale to his own Interscope -affiliated label Allido Records. Which in turn ultimately resulted in the 2009 release of Wale’s debut album “Attention Deficit” - which, with many of its tracks influenced by the funky grooves of Washington DC’s vibrant go-go scene, would go on to attract widespread critical acclaim in addition to spawning a UK Top 15 single in the Lady Gaga-featuring “Chillin’”.

Nevertheless, with “Attention Deficit” peaking at a relatively-disappointing Number 21 Stateside, amidst claims of the album being “undershipped” Wale’s next move would be to leave Interscope and, in early 2011, sign with contemporary rap superstar Rick Ross’ then-new Warner-Music-affiliated label Maybach Music Group (MMG). For whom his first album “Ambition” would later the same year enter the US mainstream chart at an impressive Number Two while additionally - and prestigiously - spawning the Grammy-nominated, Miguel-featuring hit single “Lotus Flower Bomb” along the way.

… All of which in turn pretty much brings us back to today. As, flushed with the US-chart-topping success of his current second album for MMG - “The Gifted” - an articulate and succinct Wale spends a sunny Monday lunchtime reacquainting himself with “Blues & Soul” Assistant Editor Pete Lewis amidst the hustle’n’bustle of Atlantic Records UK’s Kensington HQ.

Titling his current, third album “The Gifted”

“As title “The Gifted” reflects my belief that, in one way or another, everybody has something SPECIAL to offer the world. Which is why through the album I’m kind of telling you the story of MY life - through the musical inspiration of like the Marvin Gaye sound, the Michael Jackson sound, the DC go-go sound… You know, I’m basically trying to paint a picture of my life in terms of where I’m AT and where I’ve BEEN.”

With Wale having described the album as “very, very soulful”, what he primarily wanted to achieve musically this time round

“I wanted to push the envelope and put hip hop in a new LIGHT. You know, with me being one of the people at the forefront of hip hop right now I’m definitely trying to shift it into something SPECIAL - something that people can feel proud of years down the ROAD. Which is why the whole ALBUM really does mean a lot to me.”

With “The Gifted” having been described as his “autobiographical album”, what Wale wanted to bring across lyrically

“As I said, it’s basically just me telling my STORY. You know, I’m painting a picture of the evolution that I’m experiencing as a PERSON and the progress that I’m making in my CAREER. I’m talking about the things that have happened BEFORE, the things that are happening in the PRESENT, and the things I hope to happen LATER… So yeah, what this project represents lyrically is pretty much just the combination of all those things put TOGETHER.”

The album’s long-and-impressive list of guest-artist cameos, ranging from the likes of Rihanna, CeeLo Green and Ne-Yo to Nicki Minaj, Rick Ross and Wiz Khalifa

“Well, because I pretty much wrote the album like a fully-fledged movie I felt I needed to have some important CAMEOS. Which is why none of them are forced and all of the features make SENSE. You know, I basically just wanted to accentuate some of the emotions, or some of the feelings I had, on some of the TRACKS. Which is why all the cameos are properly placed and everybody’s either DOING what I feel they’re best at or TALKING about what I feel they’re best at... So yeah, for me the cameos were really just all about bringing the emotion out of those songs in the best possible WAY.”

Bringing on board Stokley Williams - frontman with veteran self-contained R&B band Mint Condition - as one of the album’s prominent producers and songwriters

“The main reason I wanted to involve Stokley was to bring that Nineties vintage sound - you know, something CLASSIC - to the album. Plus with him also being one of the best R&B vocalists of our generation, I just feel very, very fortunate that he was down to work with me and to be such an integral part of making this project, PERIOD. Because through him we were able to come up with real old skool-sounding tracks like “Sunshine” that are very much part of what they’re calling ‘the nu-black-soul movement’ - which in turn also meant we were able to bring on board someone like Sam Dew, who is ALSO a very intelligent writer. You know, Sam and I first met when I first got to Atlanta. And since then he and I have made so many strides in our career to where he’s now one of the most sought-after songwriters in the GAME! And so the fact that the album’s new single “LoveHate Thing” makes mine the first record he’s actually featured on as guest-vocalist, to me is FANTASTIC! Because though I know he’s still got a long way to go, he’s definitely gonna be one of the BEST!”

How Wale came to sign his current deal with rap superstar Rick Ross’ Atlantic-affiliated Maybach Music Group label in 2011and the difference it’s made to his career

“Well, the signing with Ross came about through just him hearing that I was a free AGENT again. You know, he made it his goal and he made it his duty to sign two of the hottest young rappers in the game, myself and Meek Mill. And since I signed there what I’ve found is that I’ve been given back my creative freedom and the proverbial handcuffs that I thought I was wearing when I was at my PREVIOUS label are GONE! I mean, the first album I released for Ross - (2011’s) “Ambition” - marked the first time of me doing the bulk of the writing on my own album MYSELF! Like it was my first chance to really show to the world what I was capable of doing and it showed my RANGE. Plus “Lotus Flowerbomb” was a very big SINGLE for me. It was kinda unconventional in terms of what was going on at the radio at that time, it was a little slower... But you know, I felt strongly about it and I ended up being very glad I PICKED it! Because it got me my very first GRAMMY nomination!”

Current and future plans in general

“As an artist I got a situation right now where I’m intending to put my own fully-fledged GO-GO album out probably around spring/summer of next year, because coming up in DC those were the kinda beats I started out RAPPING on. Plus in The States we’ve also got a LABEL we’re working on, where we’re looking to bring through some new artists/producers/rappers... Which is why while I’m in London right now we’re definitely trying to find some talent outta here that we can take back to The STATES with us!... So yeah, you could say we’ve definitely got some hot music comin’ for the people!”

The single “LoveHate Thing ft. Sam Dew” is released September 30. The album “The Gifted” is out now, both through MMG/Atlantic.

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