From dropping last year’s best mixtape, to cavorting with Alex Ovechkin and ML’s very own DJ01 at a Washington Capitals game, Wale has been overdue for a conversation with ML. The DC rapper turned MVP touches on his relevance to hip-hop, progress on his upcoming album Attention Deficit, the status of the Back to the Feature mixtape, and whether or not he’ll still like us after he goes eleven times platinum.
ML: A lot of people see you as a new breed of rapper because you’re the first rapper to come up on the rap blogs. Do you feel like you’re setting a precedent?
Wale: In a lot of ways. Even from touring 40 cities and doing an hour a night. That’s roughly two days on stage with no album out. That’s somewhat of a precedent. I’d like to think so.
ML: Do you feel like there’s a lot riding on you? Do you feel a lot of pressure?
Wale: Not really. You gotta understand, I’ve managed to have a consistent fan-base and be consistent with the music without having a hit record like a lot of my peers. Mine is more of a being the brand. As long as I continue to be the artist that I am and the person that I am, everything will work out. A lot of my other peers have got big records that are larger than life right now. That’s where I could see pressure. I’ve been maintaining fans and selling out shows in major markets with no album. What’s gonna happen when I give ‘em the album? That’s when it’s gonna be like, ‘Wow, and his album is great?’ Hopefully.
ML: What would you say is the biggest difference between being signed to an indie label and a major?
Wale: Indie, you can do more. Independent is a gift and a curse — you get less help, but sometimes you don’t want help. Sometimes you wanna do things yourself. Like, you don’t somebody telling you what or how to do what you’re doing.
ML: How’s the relationship with Interscope? How involved are they from a creative standpoint?
Wale: That’s why I went there, ‘cause they let me be the artist and they be the label and we work well together. I don’t play for a coach that wants to play in the game and I’m not trying to coach. It’s a great situation. If you can remember, a year and a half ago, I could’ve went to any label I wanted at that point. So I went to the place that I felt would let me be the person I want to be.
ML: What do you hope to accomplish with Attention Deficit?
Wale: Just show that there’s young artists that can make full-length albums that are good and just to keep the spirit alive of hip-hop in general. I know that sounds a bit cliché, but what I mean is, a lot of people think that the only albums that you get – only the single’s hot. That’s the completely opposite from what I’m trying to do. I feel like a whole album is a body of work.
ML: How’s the response been to “Chillin”?
Wale: It’s been great. It’s a song a lot of people want to hear when we’re on tour. It does what a single is supposed to do. History has shown the single is the most loved and the most hated. From everything from “Bonnie & Clyde” [by] Jay-Z to “My Name Is” to ‘Superman that ho’ and all that. From all walks of life; even if you watch the Biggie movie, you see that Biggie was kinda cold feet about “Juicy.” So it does what a single’s supposed to do: it’s loved and it’s hated. But I gotta say, the love has been exponential. It’s been added on a lot of stations, it’s been in mixshows, it’s been in rotation, it’s getting a lot of good feedback, so I can’t complain. And the iTunes is doing very well too.
ML: You don’t think it’s too pop?
Wale: I don’t really — ‘cause like I said, once you understand the person that I am, you understand that I have a very broad interpretation of music. It’s everything from The Beatles to SWV to Jodeci to Silk to Eminem to Black Thought to Young Dro to whatever. It’s just what I like — from James Morrison to Luther Vandross — it’s just so broad and I wanted to have fun on the record. So I thought [Lady GaGa] was somebody I could have a lot of fun with and we could make a fun record. The people deserve that because Attention Deficit is so intense in other ways that we had to let people know that it’s OK to have fun. I think the boxes on music are beginning to shatter. There’s really about to be nothing – “urban stations” are closing down all across the country or they’re slowly changing to playing records like M.I.A. and Lady GaGa and Santo and things of that nature. This is more like one of the songs that shows I don’t really care. This is hip-hop, we just having fun. This is about partying, this is about the show, this is about the performance, this is about mixing genres together.
ML: Do have anything with Curren$y besides the “Word Play” track?
Wale: The funny thing is, I just got off the phone with Curren$y about 20 minutes ago. We gon’ do a couple more things, I’ve just been real busy on the road. We gon’ do a lot of things musically together in the future.
ML: What about Drake? Do you have anything coming with Drake?
Wale: I think Drake is becoming too – he might be out of my league in a minute. If it ain’t happen within the past month, it might be a wrap. As you see, Drake is turning into something that — [laughs] I guess that speaks for itself so I don’t know if I’m going to have anything with Drake anytime soon.
ML: Are you actually diagnosed with ADD?
Wale: I was at one point. Some people believe that that’s something that’s not really real, but I definitely got it. Even now, I’m looking at other things in this restaurant and it doesn’t mean that I don’t care what I’m talking about, it’s just my mind goes at a hundred billion miles an hour, so I guess I do have it. You kind of can hear it in my rap too. I remember Mark Ronson once told me “[W.A.L.E.]D.A.N.C.E.” was like ADD, I was just going from one thing to the next, but it worked well together.
ML: Do you have a favorite place to go in DC? Not a place to be seen, a secret place. [Ed. Note: I swaggered jacked this question from Time Out New York. Journalistic integrity, people.]
Wale: Then it wouldn’t be secret if I told you! I just like to be in my house, ‘cause I got a new place and I’ve lived there for 2 months, I’ve only slept in there 3 times. That’s my place, that’s where I wanna be at and I can’t wait. I’m salivating over the thought of being in my own bed and watching Comcast all day nonstop.
ML: Can you name one kind of secret spot in DC?
Wale: Oohs and Aahs, for what it’s worth. It’s where I eat at when I’m home and I feel like driving. It’s not really so secret, but that’s where I like to go.
ML: What was it like being on ESPN?
Wale: Oh my goodness, I was extremely tired. I had just finished shooting the “Chillin” video and I got about two hours of sleep in the car because I couldn’t get to sleep. I couldn’t figure out how to get to sleep in the car service that drove me from DC to New York and once I found out and got the hang of it, I woke up and was on TV. My eyes were really heavy and I had bags over my eyes, but it was definitely a great experience.
ML: What’s happening with Back to the Feature?
Wale: It’s one of them things. I’ve just been on the road so much I ain’t been able to finish it, but I ain’t a lazy dude. The work is gonna show and I’m gonna get it done as soon as I get home. As soon as I get a couple days in the studio I’ll just finish it.
ML: How many tracks is it gonna be?
Wale: It looks like it’s gonna be 20 something, but some of the things on that tape have probably been heard already. None of the 9th [Wonder] stuff has really been heard.
ML: Is 9th Wonder producing the whole thing?
Wale: Nah, it’s other producers. I got Mark Ronson on there, I got a couple things on there, a couple gems.
ML: Who’s on there?
Wale: I got a couple of people. Joe Buddens, Royce, Young Chris, Curren$y – I’m drawing a blank right now, so many features on there – obviously Black Thought, Peedi, Jean Grae, Torae, K’Naan – that’s all I can think of off the top of the head.
ML: With all these features, why didn’t you use them for your album instead?
Wale: Budget. Budget and I don’t want too much features on my album. It’s my album. I’ve been buzzing for four years now, I think I’d be cheating the people to put too many features on the album.
ML: Is Jay-Z gonna be on the album?
Wale: At this point, nah, I don’t think so.
ML: What’s your relationship with him at this point?
Wale: He’s the big homie. He’s the chief of all things Roc Nation. I get a lot of advice from Jay. It’s weird because I’m in business with someone I spent my whole teenage life looking up to. He’s the big homie, he’s the chief, he’s the godfather of what I’m in.
ML: How much of the album is being produced by Cool & Dre and who’s doing the rest?
Wale: Cool & Dre got a couple joints on there. 9th Wonder, Justice League, Mark Ronson, TV on the Radio, Green Lantern, Sean C & LV.
ML: Do you think after the album comes out, you’re still gonna mess with the hip-hop blogs?
Wale: You always need hip-hop blogs. That’s the way of the future. Essentially, they’re gonna shut down print magazines, I believe. The blogs made a lot of our careers: Cudi’s mine, Drake’s, Charles’. We owe them. They will tear you down as well, but they’re always gonna be needed.
ML: What was the last thing you bought?
Wale: This oxtail beans and rice that I’m eating right now.
“On the Road With Wale”