In the rat-race that is rap's "freshman class," it's safe to say Wale finds himself toward the middle of the pack. But this is a marathon, people—not a race. Wale's current buzz may not be as big as say, Drake's, but after spending the last few months performing to sold-out venues and getting the music biz's new It-Girl Lady Gaga on his first single "Chillin" (the video debuted today), Wale's on course for a hot summer. His Back To The Feature mixtape should be out this month and he's targeting a late-summer release for his debut, Attention Deficit.
The DC native is in NYC for his show tomorrow night at M2, so he stopped by Complex to talk about Charles Hamilton, celebrities, and his attitude toward interviews. Oh, and if you thought he forgot about the slight jokey-jab we threw at him in our controversial rap-retail post a few months back...well, he didn't...
Interview by Ernest Baker
Complex: You really came out of left field with the Lady Gaga feature on the first single. Is there anything else particularly unusual about the album that will immediately surprise people the way "Chillin" did?
Wale: Nah, that's as left as it goes, but that's the beauty of it. That's as left as I can take it. So we bring everybody back in now. That's just to get the net as wide as possible to bring everybody into my world. She's pretty much the key. My music is the lock. She opens it so everybody can come, all of her fans can come see what has been going on in the underground scene for so long and what people have respected me for. And I think the underground fans understand what I'm doing.
Complex: You don't think you'll lose underground fans or confuse the mainstream by trying to reach both markets without compromise?
Wale: That's what the underground circuit is for. That's what Back To The Feature is for. That's what my next single is for. That's what the album is for. The underground fans that say they might be gone, they're gonna be inclined to listen to the album and go, "Okay, I get it now." It's the Attention Deficit. Wake up. Let me do something crazy to make everybody be like, "What are you doing?" I could have easily got T-Pain or anybody like that, but let me just get somebody very left. That'll wake them up. Gaga. She's never done a rap record before. Pay attention. It's a method to my madness.
Complex: Well, people are paying attention. GQ just called you the "greatest rapper since Jay-Z." Of course that's going to spark debate, but personally, do you feel like you're the best rapper since Jay-Z?
Wale: Everybody should feel like that. I'm sure Complex might not. I mean, I've heard things about myself. Complex stating that I was, what'd they call me? Burlington Coat Factory or something like that. They compared me to Burlington Coat Factory. So it's just a matter of extremes. I think that was a bit extreme. So I guess GQ just went in the other direction. I guess it's what publications do. Write things that are just kind of outlandish. I don't compare myself to Jay or anybody like that. I just try to make the best music I can possibly make. But GQ is one of the only publications that's heard a lot of the records on the album, so that might be telling about what the album is gonna present, in a sense.
Complex: Speaking of comparisons, who from the freshman class of rap, besides yourself, do you think will achieve the most success?
Wale: I mean, everybody. I'm just so happy and proud of everybody and what everybody's doing. From Curren$y doing decent numbers with the independent, digital release; from Asher selling 1.1 million-plus on iTunes with the single and almost at 200,000 [albums sold] now; Cudi got almost 4,000 BDS's a week; Mickey Factz doing the Rock The Bells tour; Blu signed a deal shortly after; Ace Hood had two very successful singles, another album getting ready to drop. Everybody's doing their thing, man. It wouldn't be fair for me to take one out the batch. I think everybody's been doing a very good job and I think XXL did a good job of picking people out.
Complex: You left out one guy in particular.
Wale: Who is that?
Complex: Charles Hamilton. I don't know if the beef is real or fake, but can you clear the record and let us know what your situation with Charles Hamilton really is?
Wale: Charles is on the label. He's an Interscope artist and he's doing his thing. I don't really speak to him. So I can't really tell you. The "Brooklyn Girls" record did pretty good and The Pink Lavalamp mixtape got some good reviews. So he's doing his thing and I'm sure that he's gonna have a good year as well. I just wasn't following his moves that much.
Complex: What got you to the point of calling him out at shows? It seems like something specific must have triggered that.
Wale: One thing about me, I understand that in the industry, a lot of it isn't real. Which is a difficult thing. Where I come from a lot of people are straightforward and I've had to learn how to not say exactly what I feel. Sometimes it gets frustrating being a person who says what he feels and what his heart is telling him. Every once in a while I fall into letting the industry get the best of me and not just saying exactly what I feel. Sometimes I'm just a little bit too honest. There was some things that were going on behind the scenes that I didn't like because it's not what hip-hop is about. Hip-hop is about honesty and it's about being real to the people, and I kinda felt like there's some instances where some artists aren't 100% honest with the people. Their integrity is lacking sometimes. And sometimes it comes out. Initially, I felt like my duty was to just keep it positive and be positive and sometimes I crack in that. We're human. I'm imperfect at times and that was just me being imperfect at that one point. Charles is Charles. Wale is Wale. It's two separate entities that have nothing to do with each other and probably will never have anything to do with each other and I wish him the best.
Complex: Drake has Wayne. Cudi has Kanye. You come out of nowhere backed by Mark Ronson, who's been unsuccessful with rap artists in the past. Is there any worry there?
Wale: That's like saying Drake is worried over some people on Young Money. Wayne's had artists for years that haven't had the opportunity to showcase their talent yet. As well as Kanye. It's guys that's been there since "Jesus Walks" that haven't the opportunity to showcase their abilities yet. Mark is not necessarily a prominent figure in the States and I don't work as closely with Mark as those other two dudes do. I'm fighting alone. My team is Rich Kleinman and guys that help me with my business. I don't have that Kanye or Wayne factor. It's just Wale fighting on his own. He got his business people with him and he's standing in the gauntlet by himself. That's how I look at it. Mark is Mark Ronson. Mark is in Russia now or whatever. I haven't seen Mark in a minute. We did our two songs for the album and that was it. It's different.
Complex: Well, I've heard you say that you like being the underdog, so even when people have reasons to doubt you, does being confident in your music make you feel better about how everything is going to work out?
Wale: Maybe they just like me because they like me, and they don't like me because they feel like they have to like me because they like this person or that person. I'm just trying to make the best music I can possibly make and represent the new class or whatever. Myself and Cudi and Asher and B.o.B. That's all I can do at this point.
Complex: Being so focused on making the best music possible, how does it feel when a publication like XXL tells you to Step Your Rap Game Up?
Wale: What line was that again? A lot?
Complex: Yeah: "You say you got a lot of whips/Well I got a lot" from "Chillin."
Wale: It was a double entendre. I'm sure everybody can think of 30 lines that was not, you know what I'm saying? It was a double entendre. Whatever. The same sword they knight you with they can goodnight you with.
Complex: How heavy does them calling you out weigh on you?
Wale: You never wanna see yourself there. Like, ever. I'd rather go to jail than see myself on Step Your Rap Game up because I take a lot of time with my stuff. The funny thing is, a lot of people have told me, "Yo, since when is a double entendre, like...come on, that was reaching." But like I said, you gotta understand that the same sword they knight you with they can goodnight you with. That's what it is, but I don't ever wanna see myself there again.
Complex: Have you become more immune to criticism?
Wale: I've read three or four things about myself in Complex that was like, I just left the photo shoot with y'all and I didn't even wanna wear what y'all made me wear but I did it because I mess with y'all, I like Complex, and I appreciate y'all taste. Then to read something like, Wale's played out and hipster this, it confuses me because I come from a world where if somebody has a problem with you they'll tell you. They won't put you in a photo shoot and have you do this, that, and the third and then two months later say that you're played out. Like, you just anointed me something, at least let my album come out. I'm learning as I go. It messes with my head a little. I get confused but I can't sit around and be mad at the whole Complex magazine or whatever. It's a publication. They're just doing their job.
Complex: You like sports too. You actually have a bet with Jim Jones and he picked the Lakers to win it all. Will you clean out his studio if Kobe gets another ring?
Wale: We have to figure that out. We're gonna see what happens, man. Orlando and L.A. I mean, it looks like an easy little sweep for L.A., but you never know. They almost lost to the Houston Rockets, so we'll see what happens. A bet is a bet, man. If Jim wins the bet then Jim wins the bet. I'm a man of my word.
Complex: You know, we were talking about Charles Hamilton earlier. He has his Rihanna thing. Do you have that type of obsession with any female celebrities?
Wale: I don't obsess over no woman. They come and go. I think to obsess over a woman is to be weak. Weaker. You gotta be headstrong. To obsess over a woman, it's like you can never give your all. What if you don't get the woman that you obsess over? That means you're settling. You can't obsess over no mortal.
Complex: If you're not obsessed with anyone, is there a celebrity who you're at least feeling?
Wale: They're cool, but I'm not really caught up with celebrity women. I've played the background for three years now. I've been out with Lindsay. I've been out with Jay-Z. I've been places with Rihanna and Kanye. I see what goes around. It's just a different world. And I think being from DC, where we don't really even believe in celebrities like that, it sets you up for that. It doesn't phase me. I think a regular girl that goes to school or works at a Complex or Spin or Blender or whatever, one of those magazines. She'd probably be flyer to me than the person she's writing about.
Complex: You once said on Twitter that you find New York boring. Months later, more is happening with your career and you have more reasons to be here. Do you still feel that way?
Wale: See, I moved back to DC. I just think New York is not the place for me. It's a dope place to visit, but to live here, you know? And at that point I lived on the 6th floor in a walk-up, so if I wanted to go out I had to go all the way downstairs, party, get tired, and walk all the way back up. So you'd have to consider that every night, like, "Do I really wanna?" But the nightlife scene is cool. Obviously the shopping is great and the food is pretty good. And the people, they're fast. Everything works fast in New York City. I ain't mad at it. I just couldn't live here. It's just too much going on.
Complex: Do you still hate doing interviews?
Wale: I never hated doing interviews. That was a little bit of back and forth between me and Semtex. This was actually a very good interview. The way you've interviewed is like, everything that's been going on recently—from Jim Jones to XXL, all of these things. It's like me doing an interview next month for Complex and them being like, "Tell me about signing with Interscope." It's like, huh? Didn't y'all just? So y'all really gonna put that in? It's like one of those things. Us as rappers get called out about stuff, even for using a double entendre. We get called out, but nobody calls out interviewers. Some interviewers aren't even interested. They're just doing it because they gotta do it. Life is nothing without passion. Whatever you're doing, at least be passionate about it because I'm passionate about what I'm doing. I'm passionate about the words I'm saying right now. Just be passionate. When the interviews is passionate, it's more conversational and we're not covering the same ground. When you're just reading a note card—not like you, this is recent stuff—but when you're just reading a note card and it doesn't even feel real, it's difficult at times. But I have no problem doing interviews. This is actually my fifth one of the day. So I have absolutely no problem doing interviews.
Complex: Any other things you'd like to say before we end?
Wale: I wanna meet the person who wrote the Burlington Coat Factory thing, but that's cool. I would love to understand it more, but everything is good. I'm about to go to the studio and make some more music today, so I'm happy and I appreciate Complex for giving me the time to do this interview.