Image: Clarke Tolton
Here’s the third piece from the latest issue of RESPECT. Magazine. Take note: This interview was conducted before the ink was even dry on Wale’s Maybach Music Group deal and before Mr. Folarin made amends
with his old friend Kid Cudi. Glad these dudes resolved their differences. I f*** with them both muscially. Ha!
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Yes, it’s true. Like LeBron James, Wale decided to join a Miami-based team. Rick Ross’ Maybach Music Group has a new recruit. Haters revolt—or prepare for the hits.
Words: ELLIOTT WILSON
Wale is chillin’. From his Westin hotel room in Florida, Mr. Folarin lounges in his bed and seems relaxed for the first time in months. After much deliberation, he’s finally decided to join forces with Rick Ross and his new imprint. He knows that the free-agent move will be heavily criticized by some, but he’s finally made his peace with it.
Adversity isn’t new to the Washington, D.C.–bred MC who overcame the public crucifixion when his Attention Deficit debut’s sales numbers fell way short of the fiery freshman’s great expectations. While some would’ve been embarrassed and taken their ball and gone home, ’Le regrouped with an effective grassroots campaign that was capped of by the release of the critically-acclaimed mixtape More About Nothing.
Everything you want, you gotta work hard for it. And now with a business cosign from one of hip-hop’s top artists, Mr. No Days Off is out to prove that his sophomore album will be met with the sweet taste of success.
RESPECT: Thanks for agreeing to talk. You don’t do every interview that’s offered to you anymore.
WALE: I’m still new, but when you’re brand-new, you’re kind of encouraged to do every interview. I’m not knocking anybody’s publication, but I needed that break to observe and understand.
So in many ways Attention Deficit ended one chapter of your career, right?
Absolutely. It was a weird time. The game’s changed. My album dropped in November of last year. Or was it 2009? The increase of viral marketing has shot up substantially. N***** wasn’t dropping videos every week. So I learned a lot. The viral marketing from artists that aren’t independent—acting as independent. Like Ross doing a video for “Devil in a New Dress,” that wasn’t heard of back then. With my next album, the marketing that’s gonna come on top of the marketing dollars they give me, it’s going to be incredible. I know the game now.
I learned a lot, and certain things humbled me. We could take the Cudi situation, you could say it humbled me a little bit, but it showed me the nature of this beast. It showed me certain things can change in people. People’s feelings can change like that, and you can’t necessarily keep the same guidelines that you live in your real world. You can’t apply those in the music industry. It’s a different monster. For better or worse.
Why do you think Cudi’s criticism of you in Complex was such a big deal?
People wanted something to get behind at that point. People wanted an interesting competition, an interesting argument, a fight, I guess. It came out of nowhere, but I’m not in that dude’s shoes. I don’t know. From the outside looking in I can assume, but the nature of human beings is crazy.
Did you have a true friendship? Were you really close outside the music?
Absolutely. I can tell you this: The last three times we’ve seen each other, I felt something.
That’s before you did the “Number Won” song?
This is a thing I never talked about. “Number Won” ain’t a diss record. “Number Won” is me scratching my head, like, this is my man that used to hit me when I was living with my girl in SoHo, like “I’m downstairs, what you doing? Let’s go to Bape, let’s go to the studio.” I’d always be like, “All right, bet.” I remember we had a show—I don’t know the chronological order of these situations, but I believe this was the first time that I felt something. We had a show at [NYC’s] Governors Island, I think his album just came out, and I was with my dudes from back home. So I’m just like, “Oh, yeah, that’s my man Cudi.” He had a rack of his people around him. I’m on this one little shuttle thing, he’s on the next one. I’m knocking on the window, like, What’s up? He wasn’t waving. Knock-knock-knock. Wasn’t waving. Knock-knock-knock. Wasn’t waving. Okay, maybe he don’t hear me. And then he looked over, and he texts me: Sup, bro. That was kinda weird. And then somebody was like, “Young’n don’t really mess with you like that.” It was between me and him to do the MCing for MTV’s Music Video Awards in ’09. Cudi had a bigger record, Cudi’s notoriety was bigger than mine, [so he must have thought,] Why the f*** did they choose Wale? Everything kinda changed after that.
But if you look at it from outside at something like GQ—there’s you, there’s Cudi, there’s Drake. They’ve achieved bigger success than you. If anyone’s gonna be catching feelings about something, shouldn’t it be you?
Drake is one of the most talented artists out right now. They could say that Degrassi s***, whatever. He can rap, he can sing, he can compose, he can arrange. He’s not a pure, Brian McKnight type singer, but at this point, he could make a song that connects with Brian McKnight’s demo more than Brian McKnight could. That’s amazing to me. If the muthafucka was born in the ’70s, he’d be legendary. That’s what I think about Drake. Cudi as well. My s*** is more traditional. I knew from jump it was going to take a while. Being next to Lil Wayne accelerates the process. Being next to Kanye accelerates the process. Being next to Mark Ronson doesn’t necessarily accelerate anything. It’s cool, it looks cool, but it didn’t accelerate nothing. I’m just the muthafuckin’ dark-skinned n**** with dreads from D.C. I knew it was gonna take a little bit longer.
How did dealing with the failure of Attention Deficit lead into doing the More About Nothing mixtape?
I wasn’t panicking. The shows never stopped. I was getting 60K to do colleges a week after selling 28,000. Money wasn’t stopping at all. I went and bought two cars. I got myself a house. I’m not mad financially. The competitor in me is like, What the f***. That’s when we started the “No Days Off” series. I started touching the people more, I went to all the neighborhoods, I went to the mall, I did whatever I could do. And as far as the music went, the only frustrating thing I can say is that some of them songs I feel could’ve affected our culture a little more. I ain’t saying I wrote the next “Dear Mama,” but “Diary,” “90210” and “Shades”—those are records that I wish could’ve had more attention.
You still love those songs, and you still perform and push those songs.
It’s so many things that happen that are poetic justice. Certain things gave me a little bit of peace of mind. N***** are starting to get introduced to my s***, which is cool. I wasn’t giving up. I said, “Look, I’m-a get this s*** to, like, ’bout 140,000 sold.” That’s going to be my goal this time. Did what I had to do. And then that hunger, that desire to be on top, that desire for people to fall in love with my music was back like day one. So I said, “Let me do a sequel to the More About Nothing mixtape,” because that’s when my hunger was at an all-time high. The hunger that I had on this one was way more than the first time. Because it was almost like a fear of losing. My back was against the wall. I did crazy numbers the first day.
When you approach a mixtape like that, is it almost like making an album?
You gotta have a moment where everything clicks. I got 40 songs right now, but it ain’t clicked yet as far as the body of work that I’m trying to create this time. I got good songs that I’ll probably sell to some movies, or I’ll put on somebody else’s mixtape. But to have that moment when it clicks—and I’m so close now, because my inspiration is going faster and faster, the quality of music is going faster and faster—but I have to have that moment.
What’s the connection to Ross? How did that come about?
Me, Ross and Waka were like the homecoming kings for black colleges. We beat up the black college scene, man. Basically, he talked to me and was like, “Man, I think you’re so close, I think you’re real close.” So we met a couple times, talked. I’ve met with a lot of people, and I wish I was bold enough to say their names right now. I’ve been around genius muthafuckas, but Ross, that dude is a special n****. I mean, to know what he’s overcome. You talk about back against the wall.
Character assassination to the maximum. What’d he come back with? Hit record after hit record, and arguably the best record of 2010. I know the Ross that n***** don’t know. He took it to a whole other level as far as overcoming s*** and just being focused. Sometimes he just be like, “Fuck those donkeys. ’Cause when you start making hit records, watch how everybody switch up.” And my affiliation with Ross, it’s almost like a joint venture; it’s not like I’m here to be a sidekick boy by any means. I’m my own brand. He respects that and he understands that.
By the time we read this, on March 1, your deal with his Maybach Music Group label might be official.
I’m signing tomorrow morning. Def Jam, J Records and Jive was like, “We’ll sign you without it.” But there’s no way I could put my faith in people that don’t understand black culture. I’m gonna give ’em a record talking about black people’s story, and they’re gonna tell me if it’s good enough or not? Nah. If I have a conversation with Ross and say, “I believe in this right here,” he’ll make them believe it, and we can put it out. He absolutely knows what he’s doing, man. Every city he go in, he’s touching the streets—like, “Who are the n***** that’s poppin’? I’m gonna show them love. These n***** are gonna pick me up from the airport, we’re gonna break bread together”—who does that?
Another artist who you work with and catches a lot of heat is Waka Flocka.
F*** hating on Waka Flocka. He has three big, monster radio records. You’re trying to tell me that’s not hip-hop? You’re connecting with all of these people over hard beats—you’re tryin’ to tell me that’s not hip-hop? So—not to say that they’re the same artists at all—but that means Ol’ Dirty B****** wasn’t hip-hop, right? You’re telling me Onyx wasn’t hip-hop? Onyx in, what, ’95—very similar to Waka in 2010.
Waka obviously ended up being a great connection for you.
That’s a good dude, dawg. And yeah, I’m the same Wale who did “Dig Dug (Shake It).” That’s me too. So I can’t say, “Look, Ma, no hands”? That hit was the big bang theory. That song had three n***** with three separate fan bases, all together with a giant hook. You couldn’t deny it.
Back to Ross. When you first started recording together, was the music chemistry there quicker than you thought?
Oh, man, I wrote my verse to “Pandemonium” extremely fast. It’s a vibe, man, when I’m with Meek and Ross. It’s something in the air. Like people call me the deep-thinking, poetry guy or whatever, but I truly believe that when artists are together—like, you see Cudi and Kanye—the music evolves. It’s something that happens when people are in the room with each other. I haven’t had that feeling since I was rapping with my friends in college at Virginia State.
I think what most people are concerned with is how the association with Ross now changes the sound of Wale’s music. Am I just gonna hear Wale over these Southern beats?
Versatility. Like, I just did a song with Rare Essence. I got some s*** from Statik Selektah that’s crazy. I’m influenced by a lot of different s***. I’m influenced by Southern hip-hop—I’m from D.C.! We grew up on that fuckin’ UGK, Scarface, Cash Money. I had those songs right next to my Reasonable Doubt CD. So that’s always been my influence. All genres. I did the Justice Euro s***. I just like music. People need to stop trying to put s*** in a box. Not every rapper can be put in a box.
Put it this way: Ross is gonna help me accentuate what I was doing already. He’s gonna make those calls to producers that tried to give me the B-folder beats. Now I’m-a get the real A-folder beats. That’s what we’re here for. Everything’s gonna be big.